Councillors have agreed to launch an informal consultation on proposals for two Bedlington first schools to convert to primaries.
At its meeting this morning (April 9), Northumberland County Council’s cabinet agreed to a request from the governing bodies of Whitley Memorial CE First School and Bedlington West End First School to carry out a consultation on extending their age ranges from September 2020.
If the changes were to go forward, it would require a statutory proposal to be published, followed by a formal consultation.
The Bedlington Partnership is currently a mix, with the majority having switched to a two-tier system of primaries and secondaries, while these two first schools and Meadowdale [Middle] Academy remain as a three-tier set-up.
Since changing from high schools to secondary schools, Bedlington Academy and St Benet Biscop Catholic Academy have retained two annual intakes each September – at age 11 and age 13 – to reflect the mixed economy within the partnership.
However, from September 2020, both secondary academies will only accept pupils at 11 (Year 7).
Given this and the fact that Meadowdale has already started to lose pupils to the secondaries at Year 7, the middle academy decided to consult on becoming a primary from this September.
The county council responded to say it didn’t support this move, as it would create additional surplus primary places within the partnership and have a knock-on impact on Whitley and West End first schools, which are under local-authority control, unlike the academy.
Council officers organised a meeting to discuss the best way forward and it was agreed to hold a joint consultation, before Meadowdale ‘went their own way’ and received approval to become a one-form-entry primary school from September 2020.
Therefore, while there are still concerns about surplus places, it was decided that a consultation should take place to seek local views on the two remaining first schools, with the main proposal being that they would become 1.5-form-entry primaries.
At last Thursday’s (April 4) meeting of the council’s family and children’s services committee, Dean Jackson, director of education, said: “To make sure no school closes, we need to have some agreement between the three schools and the Roman Catholic primary academy (St Bede’s) in the area.”
Teaching union representative Richard Woolhouse described it as a ‘problem long in the making’, claiming that Meadowdale became an academy in the first place to avoid previous discussions around falling rolls and rationalisation.
It was also pointed out that while there are surplus primary places in the partnership, the changes could result in a shortage of capacity at the secondary Bedlington Academy.
Sue Aviston, the council’s head of school organisation and resources, said that this was being monitored quite closely, adding that it’s quite complicated to predict as Bedlington is the only partnership with two high/secondary schools.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service