Rural school in Northumberland facing closure after bid falls through

A small rural school in west Northumberland is now facing closure after councillors rejected a proposal for it to convert from first to primary.

Tuesday, 3rd December 2019, 2:26 pm
West Woodburn. Picture c/o Google Streetview

The county council’s cabinet agreed at its meeting on Monday December 2 that another informal consultation into West Woodburn school, lasting four weeks of term time, should now take place about the next steps, with closure being one of the options.

This is because the local authority has serious concerns about the viability of the school going forward, with just three pupils currently on the roll.

Even in a best-case scenario – if all of the children in the catchment area went to the school, which is certainly not the case at present – there would be a maximum of 14 pupils by 2022-23.

Coun Wayne Daley, the cabinet member for children’s services, said: “This is not about money, as the school would have a surplus in its budget, it’s largely about parental choice.

“It’s also about the fact that there are falling birth rates in the area which puts pressure on some of our very small rural schools.”

The future of West Woodburn was left unresolved to some extent during the major shake-up of education in the west of the county last year, as there were concerns at that stge about the viability of it becoming a primary school alongside the rest of the Haydon Bridge partnership.

Since then, following local consultation, the governing bodies of Otterburn First School and West Woodburn agreed to join to become The River Rede Federation, which now wants West Woodburn to convert to primary.

In May this year, as the consultation process was beginning, there were eight pupils at the school, but five have since left.

The report to councillors described the outcome of the statutory consultation as ‘inconclusive’.

Five responses – from the governing body, two parents of children at the school, a member of staff and a resident – were in support of the change, but 12 were against, the majority from parents of former pupils of the school.

Head of school organisation and resources, Sue Aviston, explained that the next consultation would really need to target those parents of potential pupils for the school in addition to those who have already shared views.

At the meeting of the family and children’s services committee on Thursday (November 28), where the issue was also discussed, Coun Trevor Cessford said: “It’s relatively unusual that a lot of the comments are from people who have left the school and the comments are about educational decline.”

Teaching union representative Stephen Payne added: “The best-case scenario is 14 pupils as a primary school, which is incredibly small; I would worry about the children getting a bad deal.

“Older children would be together with much younger children and that’s difficult for teachers to manage.

“We kept Branton open a few years ago with about 16 pupils, but everyone in the community wanted that and fought hard for it, which isn’t the case here.”