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Consultation on future of West Woodburn First School

Northumberland County Council’s cabinet has agreed to carry out formal consultation on the potential closure of a school with no children in it. 

Publication of a statutory proposal for West Woodburn first school follows four previous periods of consultation relating to the school’s future.

In the most recent informal consultation, during December 2019 and January 2020, only 10 responses were received, and nine of those supported closure.

Reasons included that parents choose to send their children to other schools, and that the school can no longer provide the whole curriculum onsite, resulting in youngsters
having to be transported to Otterburn.

This most recent consultation was carried out in the light of there being only three children on roll at the school at that time, and the council has sought the views of the staff, the Governors of The River Rede Federation, parents and the wider community.

Three options were put forward in the informal consultation: that the school continues as a first school; that it extends its age range to become a primary school; and that it closes.

The only consultee to not support closure was The River Rede Federation, which supported the option to extend the age range of the school to become a primary school.

Governors of the federation felt that becoming a primary would show the local community that the council had confidence in the school and that it would encourage more parents to choose this school and avoid their children having to travel outside the village.

This view was unfortunately not borne out by parents and potential parents in the consultation - with only one member of the local community attending the consultation drop-in event for further information, and there now being no children on roll at West Woodburn.

No other options were put forward during the consultation.

Members of the cabinet considered all of the issues and consultation responses, but agreed that the only option was to move towards potential closure by permitting the publication of a statutory proposal setting out the intention of the County Council to close West Woodburn First School. 

Cllr Wayne Daley, cabinet member for children’s services at Northumberland County Council said:  “The council’s overriding commitment in all decisions is to ensure the highest quality education for all children in Northumberland and we review changes to schools in accordance with local wishes and needs.

“There has been a clear lack of support for West Woodburn First School from parents of first-school age children in the village during this and the previous consultation.

“While theoretically the school could continue to remain open in reality, and given that
there are no children on roll, and the lack of support for the current arrangements, it no longer appears reasonable for it to do so.

“There are unfortunately no other viable alternatives to the closure of this school and that is why we have agreed to move to the next stage in the process and approve the publication of a statutory proposal setting out the intention to close.”

The statutory consultation on closure will run for four weeks from 12 March to 9 April 2020, the outcome then considered again by the Cabinet for a final decision on 12 May.

Consultation details and how to have your say will be available here from 12 March.

In taking its decisions the council must take into account the Department for Education’s guidance on rural schools, which has a presumption against closure.  This does not mean that a rural school will never close, but the case for closure should be strong and a proposal must be clearly in the best interests of educational provision in the area. 
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