July date for final decision on schools in Ponteland Partnership

Ponteland Community Middle School.
Ponteland Community Middle School.

Ponteland Middle School will become a three-tier island in a two-tier partnership as it stands, after Northumberland County Council’s decision-making cabinet backed adjusted proposals this afternoon.

Members today voted to permit the publication of statutory proposals setting out the intended changes, which will be subject to a four-week statutory consultation. A final decision will be taken at the cabinet’s meeting on Tuesday, July 12.

The preferred option, following further changes made at this morning’s family and children’s services (FACS) scrutiny committee meeting, would see Ponteland High School become a secondary school and Ponteland, Darras Hall, Heddon on the Wall, Belsay and Stamfordham first schools become primary schools.

Richard Coates CofE Middle School will follow suit and become a primary school, while Ponteland Middle School has been granted an academy order and has been removed from local-authority control.

It appears likely that Whalton CofE First School will also become a primary school as the diocesan representative indicated that the governors had already said that they were not opposed to becoming a primary school if that was the preferred route for the partnership.

Coun Robert Arckless, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “I do acknowledge the difficulties and pressures which reflect, I believe, the clear commitment from governors, staff and parents – and the wider community – for their local schools.

“Every partnership is different and Ponteland has its own unique circumstances. There are a number of youngsters which live in Ponteland who don’t attend Ponteland schools and a very significant number who attend Ponteland schools who happen to live in the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

“This was instigated by the schools, not by the council and not by me. Significant power has shifted to the schools and the governing bodies and we have an example of that today. Whatever happens going forward, there will be Ponteland Community Middle School – it will have a different name perhaps, it will be an academy, but it will be there. I would still urge that there needs to be discussion within the partnership about the way forward.

“Change is often difficult and I acknowledge absolutely the clear commitment of a significant number of parents and the local councillors to the current system. We are not in control of the process any more. Powers have been given to the schools which allow significant control over how their schools are set up and the age ranges.”

Coun Peter Jackson, Conservative group lead and ward member for Ponteland South with Heddon, was the only cabinet member to vote against the proposals.

“This has been a long and painful process, not just for officers but for the community,” he said. “I said at the start that it would set school against school, community against community and that’s what it has done.

“The whole thing has been rushed through in the bare minimum time.”

He raised a series of concerns – not all related to the schools directly, for example, issues around the new community sports facilities and traffic congestion – including the speed of the consultation, how it was carried out, the lack of alternative options within the consultation, school funding, school transport in rural areas, school places at the high school at Year 9 and the lack of focus on educational outcomes.

Coun Arckless responded by saying that the latter issue had been discussed at this morning’s scrutiny committee meeting, in which two headteachers had set why they think the change will improve educational outcomes, while a different view was expressed by one of the other heads.