Northumberland middle school 'could be saved', says head

Ponteland Community Middle School headteacher Dr Caroline Pryer.
Ponteland Community Middle School headteacher Dr Caroline Pryer.

An under-threat Northumberland middle school 'could be saved by becoming an academy', its headteacher said today.

As part of a major shake-up of schools in Ponteland, Ponteland Community Middle School is facing closure in a proposal to convert to a two-tier system. Last month, Northumberland County Council's cabinet voted to launch a consultation on whether Ponteland and the surrounding villages should convert to a primary/secondary set-up. It will run until May 11.

This came about following a request from the six first schools in the partnership, which was backed by the high school, but there has been considerable opposition, in particular to the possible closure of the middle school.

But yesterday, the middle school received an academy order, which its headteacher Dr Caroline Pryer said could 'secure the long-term future of the school' and she hopes it will become an academy 'by the end of 2016'.

A statement of the middle school's website states: 'Ponteland Community Middle School has received an academy order which is a positive step regarding the future of the school being mindful of the broader direction of travel nationally and the current informal consultation locally.

'The academy order is going to act as a vehicle upon which to build a multi-academy trust in the Ponteland area and the school is very keen to pick up the conversation with other schools in the partnership as to what is the best possible provision can be for the children and their families within the community. It is the governors' wish that together we build bridges, offer an alternative proposal for this consultation and heal the community.'

And today, following the statement, Dr Pryer, who applied for the academy order last month, said: "This means we could be able to secure the long-term future of Ponteland Middle School and keep it at the forefront of education. It means that we can have a vehicle to build a multi-academy trust in the Ponteland partnership. Because we have an academy order, Ponteland Middle School will become an academy. By becoming an academy, we are in charge of our own destiny.

"I hope we will be able to come back to the multi-academy trust conversation so we can make it better, repair the bridges and help to heal the community. The order starts the consultation process and we will consult with parents, staff and the community and answer their concerns and questions through the process with the Department for Education support officer. We hope that we will be able to convert to an academy in 2016.

"I have had some comments from parents saying how thrilled they are. Some are crying and can't believe it. I am completely thrilled and delighted and I think it goes for all of the staff, who have been exceptional. There hasn't been a grumble or a whimper and they are 100 per cent committed to the children. To hear that we have an academy order means that they can now breathe. They are overjoyed that they can continue to focus on the children’s learning.

"Judging by the response we have had so far, it is a relief that we have come up with a solution that should give security for Ponteland Middle School and an opportunity to go back to the multi-academy trust conversation. The parents of the Ponteland schools have said they want to retain the three tier."

An open event, as part of the consultation for two-tier, is taking place tomorrow from 10am to 3pm at Ponteland High School, followed by another on Thursday at Ponteland Memorial Hall, from 3pm to 7pm. Ponteland Middle, sitting on the same site as the High School, will be open for parents to speak with PCMS teachers from 10am to 3pm tomorrow.

A consultation meeting is being held at the middle school on Monday, from 6pm to 7pm, to discuss what the academy order can mean for the community.

A county-council spokeswoman said: "We understand that Ponteland Middle School has been advised by The Department for Education that they will be issuing an academy order for the school. This will not have an impact on the consultation process currently under way. As we have said previously, all options put forward will be considered at the end of the consultation process."