Fears saved school could close ‘by stealth’
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
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