SCHOOLS: The history of three-tier

Head girl Hannah Lamb and head boy Simon Smith at the Duchess's Community High School, Alnwick.
Head girl Hannah Lamb and head boy Simon Smith at the Duchess's Community High School, Alnwick.

As the chairman of the committee that changed Northumberland to three-tier in 1974, I feel that the electorate now have little idea of the options then.

Yes, it is true that most of the authorities in England then opted for two-tier as the majority were large and urban by nature.

There were, however, a few that were very rural and after a lot of deliberation decided in their case the three-tier used by the public school system helped in the rural case where due to the spread of the population small village schools were needed.

The difficulty in the hill areas of Northumberland is the remoteness of small villages, and the health of the children of five to nine, if long travel was required, making the day over long.

If we had kept the children in the villages till 11, there was the problem of providing languages and science teaching being needed inYears 9 to 11.

We have an excellent group of rural teachers who have so many abilities, but to add to their curriculum was a bit much.

The south east of the county was easier as the population was not so sparse but we had to use the buildings we had as far as possible.

Lindisfarne Secondary School in Alnwick was suggested for the high school, but there were considerable local objections to that, and finally with the Duchess’s interests as the chairman of the then girls’ grammar school, that site was used.

As the Northumberland College of Education became the sixth form site, there was only the need to build a section for sciences and technical teaching, the school being set up for 900 pupils.

Lindisfarne at that time was a 700-place secondary school and the Duke’s was the boys’ grammar school.

It was a problem to see how to arrange the middle schools.

Part of Lindisfarne became an adult education centre, and the main building only the middle school for one section of the children from Alnwick district.

We normally thought of middle schools as being for about 300 to 400, but the difference in Alnwick’s two schools was a problem as the Duke’s building only had about 300.

There were to be middle schools for Wooler, which would be in the secondary school there, and also at Seahouses (secondary) and Rothbury.

As the Alnwick buildings were so different, it was decided to put Alnwick South into Lindisfarne, and due to them arriving from very small first schools in Alnmouth, Lesbury, Acklington, Eglingham and Brunton, those children would go to the Duke’s along with the Upper Barresdale children.

The cost of this arrangement was good and the things like travel costs, always a problem for rural places, were as good as anywhere in the country.

I asked the director about this when getting the financial breakdown report to Parliament, and he said it showed that we had our schools in the right places following the physical geography of the county.

Anne Wrangham,