Fears saved school could close ‘by stealth’

The Chronicle - - News - By HANNAH GRA­HAM Re­porter hannah.gra­[email protected]­plc.com @Han­nahGra­ham21

A MID­DLE school saved from the threat of clo­sure could be shut down by stealth, par­ents claim.

When Northum­ber­land County Coun­cil bosses sought to es­tab­lish a two-tier school sys­tem in Pon­te­land in 2016, bosses at Pon­te­land Com­mu­nity Mid­dle School avoided shut­ting their doors by be­com­ing an acad­emy, free­ing the school from lo­cal au­thor­ity control.

But par­ents now say the school could be starved of stu­dents, as the nearby Pon­te­land High School will not guar­an­tee places for mid­dle school-leavers in Year 9.

This, cam­paign­ers claim, will mean par­ents are forced to chose be­tween send­ing their chil­dren to the mid­dle school and be­ing sure of a lo­cal school place for GC­SEs and up­wards. If the mid­dle school

can’t at­tract enough stu­dents, it is likely to have in­suf­fi­cient fund­ing to stay open.

Mid­dle school par­ents say they’d be “dev­as­tated” to lose the school, which holds an Of­sted ‘out­stand­ing’ grade and has been rated as the best mid­dle school in the coun­try.

But coun­cil bosses say it would not be “or­gan­i­sa­tion­ally, fi­nan­cially or ed­u­ca­tion­ally vi­able” for the new Pon­te­land High School to re­serve space for a sec­ond Year 9 in­take for those leav­ing the mid­dle school.

Ground has re­cently been bro­ken on the con­struc­tion of a new school and leisure cen­tre com­plex in Pon­te­land, which is set to pro­vide a new sec­ondary and pri­mary school by 2020.

Mike Rus­sell is one of a group of par­ents who have set up a pe­ti­tion signed by over 1,700 peo­ple de­mand­ing the Gov­ern­ment in­ter­venes to pro­vide a “clear path­way” for stu­dents once they leave the school.

He said: “The ma­jor­ity of par­ents whose chil­dren have gone through that school know it’s just fan­tas­tic. But by not guar­an­tee­ing places at Year 9, they are hold­ing a gun to par­ents’ heads.

“If our chil­dren stay at the mid­dle school to get the won­der­ful ed­u­ca­tion there, we could have to send them to Prud­hoe or Hexham after­wards.

“A lot of us feel very let down by the Tory ad­min­is­tra­tion, be­cause as coun­cil­lors they stood side by side with us when we protested against the move to two-tier, but now they’re in power and they’re not sup­port­ing us.

“Hy­brid sys­tems work else­where, and given that they’re build­ing a new school, I don’t see why they couldn’t ac­com­mo­date one here.”

For head­teacher Caroline Pryer, it’s a ques­tion of al­low­ing par­ents “the right to send their chil­dren to their pre­ferred school”.

Dr Pryer added: “This is a mag­i­cal place, and I’m very proud that all of the staff are not al­low­ing this to get in the way of their 100% com­mit­ment to the chil­dren.

“But we do hope that with the sup­port of the par­ents, we will be able to en­cour­age the stake­hold­ers to work to­gether and find a so­lu­tion.”

How­ever, sup­port for the mid­dle school – which has 615 pupils – may not be unan­i­mous in the town.

One woman who con­tacted The Chron­i­cle ask­ing to re­main anony­mous but iden­ti­fy­ing her­self as a par­ent in Pon­te­land, said: “Yes, it is a shame that the mid­dle school might close, be­cause it’s a great school, but it’s for the greater good.

“We’re get­ting a bril­liant new sec­ondary school and ex­perts have de­cided the sys­tem should be re­or­gan­ised, to give chil­dren bet­ter GC­SEs and A-level re­sults. There are a lot of par­ents who feel this.”

A spokesper­son for Northum­ber­land

Mike Rus­sell

County Coun­cil said: “The orig­i­nal de­ci­sion to re­or­gan­ise schools in the Pon­te­land Part­ner­ship to a two-tier, pri­mary-sec­ondary, sys­tem was taken in July 2016. “Par­ents in the Pon­te­land Part­ner­ship were aware from that point that re­or­gan­i­sa­tion was tak­ing place in the Part­ner­ship from Septem­ber 2017, and all com­mu­ni­ca­tions from the coun­cil have been clear about this. “Par­ents who sup­ported the con­tin­u­ance of Pon­te­land Mid­dle School as a 9-13 school were suc­cess­ful in achiev­ing it. “The school was given per­mis­sion by the Depart­ment for Ed­u­ca­tion to work to­wards be­com­ing an acad­emy in April 2016, with fi­nal ap­proval by the Sec­re­tary of State for con­ver­sion from Septem­ber 2017. As a con­se­quence, those par­ents se­lect­ing the mid­dle school since the de­ci­sion to re­or­gan­ise the part­ner­ship have known that from Septem­ber 2020 there was no au­to­matic trans­fer into Year 9 at Pon­te­land High School.

“Avail­able places at Pon­te­land High School have to be al­lo­cated through the in-year trans­fer sys­tem, and, as agreed in 2016, the in­take year into Pon­te­land High School from 2020 is into Year 7 only.

“All places re­quested by par­ents will be al­lo­cated, and it is a le­gal re­quire­ment for the coun­cil to do this. The new Pon­te­land High School would not be or­gan­i­sa­tion­ally, fi­nan­cially or ed­u­ca­tion­ally vi­able if it had to re­tain 150 empty desks and the as­so­ci­ated class­rooms in each of Years 7 and 8 for pupils who might join in Year 9.

“The cost... would have a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on the bud­get of the school and the rights of the hun­dreds of chil­dren al­ready in the school to have a full teach­ing work­force. By 2020, all sec­ondary schools/acad­e­mies in the county will have only one in­take into Year 7 and all high schools/ acad­e­mies will have one in­take into Year 9.”

If our chil­dren stay at the mid­dle school, we might have to send them to Prud­hoe or Hexham after­wards

Anti-clo­sure pro­test­ers at Pon­te­land Mid­dle School in Northum­ber­land. Their cam­paign was suc­cess­ful, but there are fears the school won’t sur­vive

Dorean Kidd and Mike Rus­sell

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