I attended a relatively small school in Whittingham as a child and when we moved my younger sister attended Branton First School, a proud survivor of the movement to close small schools.
Both of us had fantastic experiences in early education, and although my husband, a Londoner, had quite a different experience of primary school, he can’t sing the praises of our local school enough.
When our daughter turned three, we enrolled her at Acklington C of E First School and she began attending the pre-school five mornings a week. She had friends who went to other schools, including some who live in Acklington, and it was a tough decision to send her to a small school which seems constantly under threat of closure.
We worried about the small numbers and how it might affect her socially, but decided that while there was a school in our village, we would use it. If she had ever expressed anything but joy at the prospect of going to school, we may have reconsidered. She hasn’t.
Aside from the quality of the school, which is excellent, we felt that the village would be much poorer without it at its heart. The presence of a C of E school not only provides the village with an additional Christian building a stone’s throw from St John’s Church, but also injects life into the centre of our community and provides the village with a universally-welcomed ‘youthfulness’.
The trouble with small schools is not the number of children, nor is it the fact that our daughter is taught alongside students in the year above her, which gives her more freedom to be educated at a pace that suits her needs, a truly personalised learning experience.
The trouble is that children who live locally don’t automatically attend the school, precisely because it is ‘at threat of closure’.
The county council has never been able to give any reassurances to parents about the school’s future so many parents don’t want to ‘take the risk’. Of approximately 30 children ‘in catchment’, less than a third attend the school.
This sometimes leads us to feel like we are fighting a losing battle, but the fact that the rest of our children travel into Acklington, citing its small class sizes and wonderful ethos as a positive, makes us realise that we have made the right decision for our family.
Although the future of the school remains unclear, for now we feel lucky that we can walk our daughter to school and prepare our younger son for this experience should it be around when he is old enough in September 2018.
After all, some of the parents who want to save Acklington C of E First School fought this fight over 30 years ago, and look at them now – they’re coming back for more.
You can sign the petition in support of our school at saveacklingtonfirstschool.co.uk