Troubled school to be closed within weeks

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A FAILING school in Bedlington is to be shut down this summer after being judged to be letting its pupils down.

Executive members at Northumberland County Council have agreed plans to close Bedlingtonshire Junior High School in August because its pupils are consistently failing to meet the required national standards.

In September, the Albert Road school will become a secondary for students aged 11 to 18.

As part of the same shake-up of education in and around the town, Bedlington Station, Stead Lane and Cambois first schools will expand to become primaries with two extra age groups.

Speaking at a meeting at Morpeth’s County Hall on Tuesday, the council’s executive member for children and young people, Lesley Rickerby, of South Blyth, said: “No decision to close a school is an easy decision, but I am going to take this as a more positive one.

“The arrangement, and the reasons behind it, is to improve the opportunities for youngsters in the Bedlingtonshire partnership.

“This has come about through people realising something needs to be done, and this has been a unanimous agreement to take this forward.”

Bedlingtonshire Junior High, known as West Sleekburn Middle School until September 2010, has fallen below government-required standards for key stage two for the last six years.

It was put in special measures by the Office for Standards in Education in 2003 and 2007 after being assessed as failing, but it was later removed and re-rated as satisfactory.

Four years ago, the school was moved from its remote site at West Sleekburn to the Bedlingtonshire High campus.

It was renamed and became part of a federation with the high school, sharing the same board of governors and principal.

An Ofsted inspection last year rated the school as satisfactory and improving, but council officials believe a change to a two-tier system will help improve standards across Bedlington, as has happened in Blyth and Cramlington.

Parents have backed the move following a three-month consultation period at the start of the year.

Governing bodies at all four schools have also supported the decision.

Ann McKay, chairman of governors of the Bedlingtonshire High and junior federation, said: “This scenario is not one that we have actively sought or engineered.

“However, we firmly believe that the action we have taken, supported by the local authority, will serve our community well for years to come.

“Our expectation is that academic standards will rise to ensure that students from our catchment area achieve as well as other students within the county and beyond.”

Susan Greaves, chairman of governors at Stead Lane First School, said the creation of three primaries in a three-tier area is not one she would have actively chosen to pursue but believes it is the right solution.

She said: “This has been an unsettling time for all of us in the local school communitie,s but we are hopeful that the changes outlined for the children in our part of the Bedlington partnership will bring some much-needed stability.”

Pauline Mulholland, headteacher at Bedlington Station First School, agreed that the plans offer a “sound solution” that will serve the community well for years to come.

Paul Frost, headteacher at Cambois first school, said, however, that his decision to support the proposal had not been taken lightly.

“The proposed change is not something we have sought to make happen,” he said. “It is a proposal that has been put before us.

“However, we believe, on balance, that the proposal as it stands, supported by the local authority, is the best solution in meeting the needs of the young people of this part of the Bedlington partnership of schools.”

It was also revealed last week that all but two members of Bedlingtonshire Junior High School’s staff have been offered new jobs at the reorganised schools.

Education officers said that moving to a two-tier system would mean pupils were not moving schools during key stage two, allowing them to concentrate on their education and running less risk of a negative impact on their learning.

Alan Thompson, ward councillor for Central and East Newbiggin, said: “It is very sad to see any school close.

“It seems this is the right thing to do, and we are here to respond to the people we are responsible for.”