Two-tier system will help to ‘raise career prospects’

Ashington Bothal Middle School.
Ashington Bothal Middle School.

Officials behind plans to change the education system in Ashington say the proposal is for the benefit of students.

Plans were announced last week by the Ashington Learning Partnership Trust (ALPT) to move to a two-tier structure.

Under the proposals both Hirst Park and Ashington Bothal middle schools would close in August 2015 while the age range would be extended to 11 to 18 years 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.

Chris Smith, chairman of governors at ALPT, said they had been considering moving from three-tier to two-tier education for a number of years and decided to act now as funding was available to help bring the school buildings up to the required standards.

Speaking to the News Post Leader, he said: “We want to give children in Ashington the best education they can possibly have.

“We’ve been wanting to do this for a few years.

“We want to see all of our schools rated as ‘outstanding’ and we believe this is the best way to do it.

“There is less transition points, we’re just moving children two years earlier.

“If money had been available earlier we would have changed to two-tier education then.

“This is something being pushed by the schools and not the county council. The governors and staff all want it.”

He added: “The school is changing, not closing. It’s changing to give a better education in Ashington.

“The sooner we can do this, the sooner the kids can benefit.

“The trust is all about being a one-age school offering education from two to 18.

“The success of this community in the future is tied to how well educated the citizens of tomorrow are, and a good education with strong moral purpose brings a community that cares and a community that is successful.

“We want kids from Ashington to have the best opportunity to be treated fairly and to be able to go for the best jobs they can.

“This is a massive opportunity for Ashington.”

Mr Smith also said that all middle school sites would remain in use as there were good facilities available in them, such as science labs and PE sites.

“It’s not about closing schools,” he said.

“We’re operating from five sites and will still be operating from five sites.

“We’re transforming schools into first class centres for learning.”

Consultation on the proposals began on Tuesday and is expected to last 16 weeks, with Mr Smith hoping that all parents would get involved in the discussions and attend the meetings scheduled.

Rob Kitching, principal at Ashington High School, said: “We would like to welcome as many parents as we can to be involved in the consultation events across all of our schools.

“The more parents we can engage through the better. We would like to have their opinions both positive and negative in order to move these proposals forward.”

He added: “Teaching in first school is topic based but if we take then into a new environment where they can grow and develop it will be fantastic for them.

It is expected to cost £4.4m to bring all the buildings up to standard, with potential for a £3m grant from the Department for Education.

But some parents have hit out at plans, with nearly 100 people calling for ALPT to scrap the proposals.

Worried parents say the plans could damage the education of younger children who would move to secondary school two years earlier.

Kirsty Ricelton, whose daughter and granddaughter go to Central First School and Hirst Park Middle, said: “If we wanted two-tier education we would have put them into the academy in the town before this.

“It’s up to parents to choose between two and three-tier education. Why not keep three-tier so parents can still have a choice?

“I don’t see how it will work. Children will feel intimidated being around older children when they are so young.

“Why do they want to change it? If it’s not broken there’s no need to fix it.”

To sign or view a petition against the plans, visit either or the ‘Keep Central Hirst Park and Bothal as three tier’ page on Facebook.