Request for consultation on new education model for Ponteland

Ponteland Middle School would close if the changes happen.
Ponteland Middle School would close if the changes happen.

A two-tier system of education for the Ponteland Partnership area has been put on the table.

Northumberland County Council’s cabinet will consider a report next week about the potential to switch from the current three-tier system.

If the changes happen, Ponteland Middle School would close and its headteacher has said she is ‘disappointed and disheartened’ by the request from the first schools.

One of the first school headteachers has described the proposal as a ‘great opportunity’ and believes it will benefit all pupils in the area.

The school at Broadway in Darras Hall would remain in its current location. Under county council plans unveiled last year, it would have moved to a new large campus along with Ponteland High School and Ponteland Middle School.

The governors and senior leaders of Belsay, Whalton, Heddon on the Wall St Andrew’s, Darras Hall, Ponteland and Stamfordham first schools have asked the authority to organise a six-week consultation to gauge the views of parents, pupils, governors, staff and the wider community and Ponteland High School has put forward its support of the request to consult.

The age ranges of Belsay, Darras Hall, Ponteland and Stamfordham first schools would be extended from ages three or four to age 11, up from age nine at present, and Ponteland High School would cover ages 11 to 18 (currently 13 to 18).

Ponteland Middle School headteacher Caroline Pryer said: “We’re very disappointed and disheartened by this consultation proposal.

“The first meeting of all the headteachers in the partnership area regarding this proposal was 10am on Monday – the same day that news of the request was released to the public.

“The governors and the leadership of the school are looking at alternative models in consultation with our parents.

“We promise our on-going commitment to our children’s education and to our school community.”

Linked to the proposed model, the council is expecting that the governing bodies of the partnership’s Church of England schools will also agree their own consultations to change age ranges, which would run at the same time as the council consultation.

This would see Richard Coates Middle School consult on changing its age range to a three to 11 primary school and Heddon-on-the Wall St Andrew’s and Whalton First Schools would consult on extending to ages three or four to 11 years primary schools.

An initial analysis of the implications for school buildings has indicated that costs would be feasible within the multi-million pound investment already agreed by the council.

Ponteland First School headteacher Lynn Blain said: “We believe that a primary and secondary model will result in greater long-term security for our schools, particularly our rural schools.

“We think it’s a great opportunity and it would help to secure the major investment that we need. We have been very careful to think of what’s best for all of the children in the whole of the Ponteland Partnership area.

“Parents I have spoken to about this have said that whilst they recognise change can make people anxious, they can see the merits of moving to a two-tier system.”

She added that problem issues the first schools have identified with the three-tier system include accountability for progress and teacher recruitment.

If approval is given for a consultation, the authority will work up detailed building costs.

It is proposed that new buildings would be constructed for Ponteland High School and what would be Ponteland Primary School on a shared site, with leisure facilities adjacent to the current high school site.

The changes include the Richard Coates Primary School operating from the current Ponteland First School building. Ponteland First School would re-locate to a new building on a shared site with Ponteland High School and a new catchment area for this school would be developed.

This would also have an impact on the current catchment area of Darras Hall First School, as this school would reduce its Planned Admission Number (PAN) from 90 to 60.

A report on this issue will be considered by the family and children’s services overview and scrutiny committee next Monday and the cabinet on Wednesday, March 16.

If the cabinet agrees to consult on these proposals, a document would be made available to all parents, school staff, governors, the local community and other interested parties for a period of six weeks (excluding school holidays). A statutory process would follow.

Coun Robert Arckless, cabinet member for children’s services at the county council, said: “Our main aim is to make sure that our young people get the best possible education, in the best possible environments.

“As a council we want to invest in education in Ponteland and are working with schools and the local community in the area to respond to their views and agree the best arrangements for them in the future.

“We have listened carefully to the views that have come through in the recent consultation and have been carrying out further work, as have the schools themselves.

“The first and high schools have come forward and asked us if we will consult on a primary/secondary structure.

“As a council we don’t have a policy on the form of school organisation, however we have to ensure that if schools decide to change structure then any future building work matches the change.

“We simply want to support schools to enable them to improve standards.”

The consultation would also consider catchment areas.