Group backs plan for academy trust

Richard Coates Middle School is among those that could be changing its age range.
Richard Coates Middle School is among those that could be changing its age range.

A parents’ group is backing a multi-academy trust (MAT) proposal that would retain three-tier education in Ponteland.

The consultation about switching to a primary and secondary model finishes on Wednesday and meetings have taken place at each of the schools involved.

And after Ponteland Community Middle School announced that it has received an academy order, Parents of Ponteland Schools (POPS) is advocating the formation of a MAT. Group members were present to hand out information and forms about this at the consultation event in the Memorial Hall last Thursday.

One of the parents who attended, Kelita Fleming, has children in Darras Hall First School, the middle school and Ponteland Community High School.

She said: “We have such a great system in place and the middle school is fantastic, in my opinion it is the best school in the partnership, so to destroy what is currently in place would be very sad.

“And it’s important for pupils at the rural schools in particular to have the middle school transition rather than going straight to a big school.”

A POPS spokeswoman said: “We want to protect three-tier, which is a very special educational system that instead of being suppressed should be applauded and allowed to thrive. A MAT model will allow the partnership to further develop the collaboration and working relationships between schools in areas such as assessment and pupil tracking as well as staff development.

“The sustainability of our smaller rural schools is critical for the future of our village communities and we believe that the mutual support and sharing of resources under a MAT umbrella could help to secure these schools in a much more positive and flexible way for the long term.

“The benefits of building upon our well established system far outweigh the risks of disruption to the current generation of our children that would be inevitable in moving to two-tier.”

If the proposal being consulted on is approved by Northumberland County Council’s cabinet and the Church of England schools in the Ponteland Partnership, the age ranges of the first schools would be extended from ages three or four to age 11, up from age nine at present, and Ponteland Community High School would cover ages 11 to 18 (currently 13 to 18).

Richard Coates Middle School would change its age range to a three to 11 primary school and Ponteland Community Middle School would close in August 2019, although it says it has been protected from this as a result of receiving the academy order.

In the additional information to the consultation document, the view of Ponteland First School includes the following: ‘There are sound educational reasons to change such as reducing the number of transition points from school to school, ensuring continuity of the curriculum and continuity of assessment, keeping accountability for progress across the primary phase clearly in one school and ensuring that we attract the best teachers into our partnership of schools by offering the opportunity to teach across the full primary phase in one school.’

In Ponteland Community High School’s points, it says it is worth noting that the national accountability (and funding) framework is based on a primary and secondary model of school organisation.

Ponteland residents David and Alison Okell attended the Memorial Hall event. They were against proposals in the middle of last decade for the whole county of Northumberland to move to a two-tier system.

Mrs Okell said: “Ponteland’s schools are much better off operating under a three-tier system. The massive disruption such a change would have on the children is being totally underplayed.”

Mr Okell added many residents are also angry that no-one at County Hall will be accountable for the plans, unveiled last autumn, to move Darras Hall First School to a shared site with the middle and high school being scrapped after overwhelming negative feedback.