Disappointment after government ‘reject’ £46m schools investment programme

Northumberland County Council has expressed disappointment after the government rejected plans for a school merger and new academy in the west of the county.

Yesterday Councillor Robert Arckless, the council’s cabinet member for Education and Skills, received a letter from Education Minister Lord Nash in response to the proposal put forward by the council to merge Haydon Bridge High School (HBHS) and Hexham Queen Elizabeth Academy in Hexham and establish a newly built  multi-million pound academy in the area.

The council's proposal would have meant a consultation on the removal of  the Academy orders from HBHS and the sponsorship arrangements the Bright Tribe Trust and the development of a long term solution to educational problems in the west of the county.

There was also a proposal to build a combined new school for both Hexham and Haydon Bridge at a cost of around £46 million.

In his letter to the council Lord Nash states: “the Council's proposal to close Haydon Bridge High School cannot be reconciled with its legal duty to take all reasonable steps to facilitate the conversion of the school into an academy' and 'the Secretary of State has powers to direct local authorities under 5(C) of the Academy Act 2010. The RSC [Regional Schools Commissioner] is considering appointing an interim Executive Body and will write to the council soon'.

Councillor Arckless said: "No detailed explanation is given as to why consultation with the community cannot go ahead so we must assume this decision has been taken by the minister and RSC purely on the basis of the current ideological approach taken by central government to academisation of schools."

In a letter to parents and staff, Andy Johnson, Northumberland Director of Education wrote "We are very disappointed that the letter rejects our proposal and forces the academy solution under Bright Tribe on the school and the County Council."

Cllr Arckless added: “The alternative proposal put forward by the council will be still be discussed at the our Cabinet meeting on 19 January, however it now seems unlikely that this proposal will go forward.

Given this development from the RSC and the letter from the Minister  it also now looks likely that the long term future of Ridley Hall will be put under threat. Bright Tribe have stated very clearly that they do not wish to continue with Ridley Hall.

“We will now be writing to the RSC this week to urge them to do all they can to bring this process to a conclusion. In our view it is unacceptable for the current uncertainty due to continued due diligence and negotiations between the RSC and Bright Tribe. This severely disadvantages children and their families.”

The Council will also seek clarification about what the RSC and Bright Tribe intend to do about Ridley Hall and we will urge them to contact parents just as soon as they can to keep them informed of the timescales involved and their plans for the future.

The Council remains strongly committed to supporting the children, staff and families involved with the school.  It has had grave concerns about Bright Tribe's track record of school improvement but will continue to do all in its power to work with them as it now looks inevitable that they will take over the control of the school.

The Council hopes they will be able to bring about a more secure future for the school, despite the challenges  that they will face in terms of falling rolls, finance and resources.
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