Here are my comments on the specific recommendations for closure of Vincent Edwards C of E School, Embleton.
The recommendation made by the director of education and skills to the cabinet of Northumberland County Council on Thursday, June 18, to the closure of Vincent Edwards C of E First School was strongly regretted.
However, the cabinet instruction that procedures should be immediately introduced for fresh and meaningful consultations was welcomed.
I am convinced that the school, with its present headteacher and governing body, supported by the parents (including its admirable action group), is in a strong, viable position to continue providing a high standard of academic, social and morale education in a reconstituted, sustainable primary school.
I also note that the present school building is admirably suited to adopt to this new role with very little additional cost.
Vincent Edwards was rated Outstanding/Good in the Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools, and Good by Ofsted in 2014.
It is contended that closing the school would not improve educational outcomes for local children. All three parish councils, Embleton, Newton by the Sea and Craster, are of the same mind, and fully support the views of their communities that the school should remain open.
It was heartening to learn of the positive approach by the Parochial Church Council and the vicar of Embleton in vigorously pursuing the need for the continuation of the church school, and their informing the Diocesan Education Board of their stance and soliciting its aid.
The county council is reminded that in discussions leading up to core strategy documents, Embleton is recognised as an important secondary settlement in the overall strategic planning and economic development within the county.
Informed discussions between officers of the county council and the parish council, of which I am a member, to discuss this basic premise were held, and one of the core considerations always was the place of the school at the heart of this vibrant community.
Examples of this ‘vibrant community’ are the parish church, with its much appreciated Mandell’s Coffee Pot café, the Village Shop and Post Office, the garage with shopping facilities, the surgery, the hotel and two hostelries offering excellent accommodation and food, the Creighton Memorial Hall with its plethora of activities, a hugely prized children’s play park, completely refurbished by dedicated local volunteers, and an ecumenically-sponsored newsletter. The Bridge Club and Guides are further examples of local involvement.
Additionally, a multi-purpose sports court has received planning permission. In neighbouring Christon Bank, part of the parish, the Methodist Church, with its communal facilities, is greatly appreciated, as is its local store.
It was to this vibrant community concept that when the parish council was approached by our then county councillor, the late and greatly respected John Taylor, to gain its views on exploring the possibility of co-pioneering with the county council to build social housing to let in rural areas, and with its aims of attracting young families to the area, the parish council agreed positively.
Some of the 16 houses are appearing at an advanced state on the quarry skyline, approximately 200m from the school. Complementing this will be 36 houses to be built by a local landowner on a peripheral village site.
This response to the consultation had been made in this detail because it is of the firm belief that the removal of the village school will have both an immediate and long-term detrimental effect on the plans of the county council and the parish council.
Young families wishing to be considered for the social housing development will be deterred if there was any suggestion of the imminent closure of the school. It is self-evident that some of the described facilities would ‘wither on the vine’.
Finally, to quote from Embleton parish council’s submission, “It is essential to avoid a potential public relations disaster occurring in the spring of 2016 when the quarry development will be officially opened, and at the same time the adjacent school will be officially closed, a real ‘Alice in Wonderland’ situation.”
The county council, cabinet and officers are urged to make the occasion an undiluted joyous one – new housing coupled with the presence of a vigorous school.
In the meantime, a cordial invitation is extended to cabinet members, colleagues and officers to visit Embleton, either formally or informally.