Investment in education is at the heart of West Northumberland.

A consultation exercise that will explore potential education models to ensure top class education for all children in the west of Northumberland enters a new phase today.

Leaders of schools in the west have already been consulted over the last month and now the second phase of this extensive consultation is opened up to the wider community.

The public, parents, schools and wider community are being asked to give their views on three possible models that aim to provide state of the art facilities and the best possible outcomes for children in the Hexham, Haltwhistle and Haydon Bridge areas.

The council has been forced to consider the future for education in the area in the light of several factors outside of its control.  These include the withdrawal of the Bright Tribe Trust from potential sponsorship of Haydon Bridge High, the Department for Education’s request that the council look at potential closure of that school, the Hadrian Trust consultation on forming an 11-18 school in Hexham and the financial difficulties forecast by several schools in the light of new national funding regulations.

It has also identified the need for investment in school buildings across the area and changes would enable a rationalisation of buildings in areas where there is over capacity.

Councillor Wayne Daley, deputy leader and cabinet member for children’s services at Northumberland County Council said: “With the withdrawal of the Bright Tribe Trust and the Hadrian Trust consultation we feel the time is right to take a serious look at the education options within the Haydon Bridge and Hexham partnerships and explore all potential solutions. As well as those put forward as options in our consultation  we very much welcome further ideas from schools and parents and the wider community.

“Delivering good quality education in Northumberland is a high priority for us but it must also be sustainable in the long term. Within the proposals there is a strong commitment from the council to invest heavily in improving schools and educational facilities, to give our young people the best possible start, but whatever we do we must focus on the long term and not try to find a quick fix to a short term problem.”

Future proposals could see investment of many millions of pounds in schools in West Northumberland, depending on the model is eventually taken forward.

Northumberland County Council has already carried out an informal consultation with local leaders from the schools and academies to discuss the current and future issues for education and to explore potential education models.

Following this, three proposals are being put forward in the second phase of consultation that will last seven weeks and run until April 9.  Views are sought on these three models, and other ideas are also welcomed:

Model A – Haydon Bridge High School would merge with Queen Elizabeth High School (QEHS) and the current Haydon Bridge School would close.  Starting in September 2019 pupils would begin to transfer to Hexham Middle School and QEHS on their current sites. Options would be explored with Hadrian Trust to develop a new site or new buildings. In addition there would be mergers of some first schools to create larger first or primary schools, this could result in the closure of up to eight school sites.

Model B – This model would involve a more wide ranging reorganisation of the schools. Haydon Bridge High School would merge with QEHS, all middle schools and up to seven first schools would close or merge with newly established primary schools.

Model C – An age 4-16 years all-through school could be established in Haydon Bridge to replace Haydon Bridge High school on its existing site. An age 9-18 school could be established in Hexham. In this model Bellingham Middle School and Haltwhistle Upper Academy would close and merge with neighbouring schools.  Up to 10 first/primary schools would merge and buildings would close.

These models are not exclusive options and have been designed to stimulate debate and enable a full consultation to take place. A combination of models or new ideas may come forward as part of the process.  

Councillor Daley added:  “We know and understand that this consultation will generate a lot of debate and discussion. There are 32 schools within the partnership and within the options there is a possibility for some long established schools to close. We must be realistic and work in partnership for the benefit of all children.

“Unfortunately the current structure, with the high number of small and very small schools together with no sign of significant growth in pupil numbers mean that the current education system appears not to be financially or educationally viable in the long term.

“The newly introduced national funding formula does not resolve the funding challenges many schools face. An average-sized primary school nationally can receive nearly four times as much funding as a small school in Northumberland. Many small schools with low pupil numbers and low levels of funding will struggle to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum offer in the future.

“We are committed to significant investment to drive forward the changes asked of us. We will be working closely with all those involved in education in the west of the county, with staff, parents and the wider community to find a solution that will be in the best educational interests of all the children in the area.

A wide ranging and open consultation is now underway. Each school will hold its own meeting with parents and there will be individual meetings with school leaders and staff at each school.

The council will hold two drop-in events:
  • Monday 26 February 2018 from 4.30pm to 8.30pm at Haydon Bridge High School; and
  • Saturday 17 March 2018 from 10am to 3pm at Hexham Mart Function Suite.
These will be drop-in events that can be attended at any time, and are for those with an interest in either Haydon Bridge or Hexham partnerships.

To view the consultation document and express your views go to schools consultation section of the website www.northumberland.gov.uk

A final decision is expected in July 2018, with any changes beginning in September 2019 and phased in up to 2022.
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