Northumberland County Council has responded to community feedback, and produced proposals aimed at ensuring rural schools are given a way forward despite the many challenges they face.
The proposed solution published today has been formed as a result of views of schools and the wider community and provide a signpost towards the next steps for a opportunity to consolidate and improve education in the west of Northumberland.
It follows a seven week informal consultation with parents, schools and the wider community carried out in light of a number of issues affecting education, with some fundamental issues outside of the council’s control.
After the withdrawal of the Bright Tribe Trust from potential sponsorship of Haydon Bridge High School, the Department for Education requested that the council look at the future of the school. In addition, the Hadrian Learning Trust have been consulting on forming an 11-18 school in Hexham, both of which could have a significant impact.
There is also a need for improvements in school buildings, and future proposals could see investment of many millions of pounds in schools in West Northumberland to provide state of the art facilities.
Following a huge level of feedback, the County Council’s Cabinet is now being recommended to take back control of and invest in Haydon Bridge High School, push for the creation of a federation of small rural schools, give a number of first schools an opportunity to alter their age range and make a significant investment into Queen Elizabeth High School in Hexham.
The report also advises Cabinet that the council should explain to the Regional Schools Commissioner and Hadrian Learning Trust that the authority cannot support the Trust’s proposed change in age-range.
This report also advises that Cabinet should not progress previous options, which involved closing a number of schools.
However, the report also recommends that as a result of proposals for Bellingham First School to become a Primary school, Bellingham Middle would close from September 2019.
Councillor Wayne Daley, Northumberland County Council Cabinet member for Children’s Services, said: “This is a watershed moment for the schools in the west of Northumberland.
“From the outset this has been a big conversation which was all about hearing the views and ideas of everyone with an interest in education – whether that’s parents, teachers or young people themselves. We’ve had over 3,000 responses and I thank everyone for that.”
“We know how important schools are to local communities and it was vital we had this conversation and considered all available options.
“There are a number of significant issues that need to be addressed to ensure children across the west have the best possible access to a first-class education.
“With these new recommendations we’re looking to take back control of Haydon Bridge, continue to give parents choices in education and invest millions in schools.
“However partnership working is critical to make these proposals sustainable. If agreed we will work in partnership with small schools to address their challenges and ensure they build capacity to become both financially and educationally viable in the longer term.”
Cath McEvoy, Executive Director of Children’s Services, said: “Following the feedback we’ve now been able to develop our initial proposals and bring forward this innovative community-led solution. This would require individual schools to work more closely together as parts of federations or multi-academy trusts.
“If Cabinet are minded to approve the new recommendations on May 8, statutory consultation will start for four weeks starting on May 10 before Cabinet make a final decision on July 10. Changes to schools would start to come into effect from September 2019.