Plans for schools to move over to a two-tier system

Two middle schools could be closed in Ashington under new plans to introduce two-tier education to the town.

Proposals have been drawn up to scrap the three-tier school structure in what would be the biggest change to education in the town since the Ashington Learning Partnership Trust (ALPT) was established in 2007.

Officers at Northumberland County Council are seeking approval for a 16-week consultation from next Tuesday on the proposals, which would be implemented from September 2015.

A report due before the authority’s policy board today (Thursday) is seeking formal approval from members for the consultation.

Under the plans both Hirst Park and Ashington Bothal Middle schools would close in August 2015, while the age range would be extended to 11 to 18-year-olds for Ashington High School.

The age ranges would also be extended for Ashington Central and Ashington Wansbeck first schools, as well as Ellington, Pegswood and Linton first schools, to cater for children up to the age of 11.

The governing body of the ALPT has already given its support to the consultation while there is backing from the governing bodies at Ellington and Linton.

The report said that should the proposals go ahead it would cost £4.4m to bring all the buildings up to standard – with potential for a £3m grant from the Department for Education.

One part of the Ashington High School site – known as ‘The Annexe’ – would cost £1.5m to bring it up to standard, but the preferred option for the trust is to have all students in the main building, which would be extended.

This would enable the trust to sell off the Annexe building, potentially for up to £200,000 or £750,000 if the playing field was included, but this would need approval from the Secretary of State.

The report said: “The building solution for Ashington High School would cost £3.75m.

“However, the extension to the current high school building would not be ready in time for September 2015 and the high school would need to continue to use The Annexe for the first year of operation only.”

It would cost an estimated £625,000 to make Ellington First School ready for the additional pupils and £40,000 for Pegswood First School.

Discussions are due to start involving the trust, governing bodies and trade unions on the impact for staff, with staff required at all of the six continuing schools in the partnership.

A report to the committee said the trust’s aims were “to create an outstanding 11-18 secondary school and area-wide learning provision with a focus on the best possible academic success and bespoke learning routes for students to further their education and training”.

And “to create outstanding two to 11-year-old primary school provision on the current first and middle school sites with a focus on early intervention, the acquisition of basic communication and numerical skills with increasing opportunities for children to acquire enterprise and creative skills in readiness for their secondary education”.