SCHOOLS REORGANISATION: Don’t let opportunity pass us by

An artist's impression of the rebuild of the Duchess's Community High School, which is now well underway and which would be expanded to cater for 11-to-18 education.
An artist's impression of the rebuild of the Duchess's Community High School, which is now well underway and which would be expanded to cater for 11-to-18 education.

Politicians of all stripes are united in backing an 11-to-18 secondary school in Alnwick, saying it is the best option for the future of education.

Councillors representing the town, from the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems, are also keen that with funding being available, the opportunity to expand the new high school to cater for Years 7 to 13 does not fall by the wayside.

Northumberland County Council has launched further consultation on the preferred option of primary and secondary schools in the Alnwick Partnership, which would mean the closure of four middle schools and two first schools.

There has been vocal opposition to a switch to two-tier education, primarily from the more rural, outlying areas of the Alnwick Partnership, such as Seahouses and Embleton.

This has led to fears that the chance for a modern, fit-for-purpose, 11-to-18 secondary school could be missed.

The county council has already identified a total of £9.4million for the necessary changes to the schools if the preferred option went ahead, including £6million to modify the new build of the Duchess’s Community High School.

Conservative town and county councillor for Alnwick, Gordon Castle, said: “This opportunity for a first-rate, well-resourced high school in Alnwick must not be missed – the 11-to-18 age range offered enables better educational child management for longer in a single-school environment that will fit modern times and expectations.

“The interests of children come first and, in Alnwick, there is overwhelming support for an 11-to-18 years high school on the new Duchess’s school site fed by suitably modified primary schools.

“I am delighted that there is also cross-party political support for it in Alnwick and we are all pressing for this scheme to be delivered and managed well.

“I recognise the concerns and difficulties in some rural areas, but these are manageable and nothing should be allowed to derail this now.

“The money has been found and the process of consultation has been extensive – we need to get on with it without delay.”

Mayor of Alnwick, Bill Grisdale, a Labour councillor, said: “There is a consensus across local politics in support of these changes to our education provision in the Alnwick area and I would like to commend the county council for its extensive consultation on the matter.

“As has been said elsewhere, the interests of our children come first and 11-to-18 provision on the one high-school site, as well as changing our first schools to full primary education establishments, offers the best future for their education in the 21st century.

“Obviously, there will be difficulties in implementing the scheme, but I am sure solutions will be found.

“With the money in place, we should not let this opportunity pass us by.”

Lib Dem county councillor for Alnwick, Heather Cairns, said: “As one of the county councillors representing the residents of Alnwick, I support the building of an extra wing onto the new Duchess’s Community High School so that children from 11 to 18 can be educated on one site.

“The Duke’s Middle School is a wonderful, inspiring building, but it is too expensive to rent and run.

“I would not wish to see pupils moved from there to the Lindisfarne site when there is the opportunity for new building on one site.

“The two-tier/three-tier argument has been going on for years and there are benefits to both systems, but this is an opportunity that should not be missed.

“I must add that I do not support the closure of Embleton and Branton first schools.”