VILLAGE SCHOOL FACES CLOSURE


APPROVAL FOR CLOSURE OF ACKLINGTON SCHOOL

The following article was published by the Northumberland Gazette on 7th November 2017

 

The closure of Acklington CofE First School has been signed off by councillors and the final bell is set to ring in the summer.

In line with the recommendation at last week’s meeting of the county council’s family and children’s scrutiny committee, the decision-making cabinet voted on Tuesday that the school should stay open until the end of the academic year (August 31, 2018).

This is subject to final approval as it is different to what was originally proposed by the governing body of the James Calvert Spence College (JCSC) federation, which was to close at the end of next month.

The closure is based on the falling pupil numbers, which puts the school in a precarious financial situation as well as raising concerns about whether a broad curriculum can be provided to pupils alongside the impact on their emotional and social development.

Andy Johnson, the council’s interim director of children’s services, and Neil Rodgers, JCSC’s executive headteacher, set out the rationale behind the closure, which Mr Rodgers described as ‘the only viable option’.

Parent Steven Bush repeated the concerns he raised at last week’s meeting, saying: “We believe the school hasn’t taken the necessary time or actions to investigate alternative options to closure.”

Local ward member, Coun Jeff Watson, added: “It’s very sad when a school like Acklington, that has been around for so many years, is facing a situation like this.

“Many of the parents feel let down by the system. Twenty-one months ago (when Acklington joined the JCSC hard federation), promises were made and they felt they weren’t kept.”

He added: “I can’t argue against the closure, but we should keep the school open until the summer term. I know there will be a cost and I know that’s difficult, but in this case, I think we should bear it.”

When the governors launched a consultation on closure in May, there were 13 pupils on roll. Now there are just eight, although it is accepted that the uncertainty around the school’s future has had an impact.

The school is set to run a deficit of £40,000 in 2017/18, while the buildings are in a poor condition and the mobile classrooms need to be replaced at a cost of around £170,000.

There are places available for the eight pupils across the other first and primary schools in the Coquet Partnership.

Part of Acklington’s catchment area would be incorporated into Broomhill First School’s as the nearest school (1.3 miles) and part would be incorporated into that of Warkworth CofE Primary School as the closest Church of England school offering primary education (2.9 miles). The council would guarantee transport to these schools for eligible pupils.

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SCHOOL CLOSURE MAY BE DELAYED BUT NOT HALTED

The following article was published by the Northumberland Gazette on 2nd November 2017



Councillors have recommended delaying the closure of a north Northumberland village first school by eight months – but that it should still go ahead.

As we reported last week, Northumberland County Council’s decision-making cabinet is recommended to approve the proposal of the governing body to close Acklington CofE First School.

The initial proposal was for the closure to take effect at the end of this year – December 31, but at this morning’s meeting of the council’s family and children’s services scrutiny committee, a majority of members were concerned that this was not an appropriate timescale.

Therefore, while voting by seven to zero to recommend the closure, against the wish of parents, members did vote by six to three to suggest that the school stays open until the end of the academic year (August 31, 2018). The final decision will be made at the cabinet’s meeting next Tuesday.

Despite the first school becoming part of the James Calvert Spence College (JCSC) hard federation in 2015 to support it and reduce overheads, the falling pupil numbers meant the governors launched a consultation on closure in May. At that time, there were 13 pupils on roll, but that has now fallen to just eight.

Introducing the report to councillors, Andy Johnson, the authority’s interim director of children’s services, said: “The ability of a school to deliver a curriculum to a very small cohort of pupils is always a challenge.”

This was also discussed by JCSC’s executive headteacher, Neil Rodgers, alongside the impact on children’s social and emotional development. “We understand that closure of any school is very emotive,” he said. “No one is pleased about this at all.”

Unsurprisingly, finances and the viability of the school with so few students, when funding is based on pupil numbers, was also a key issue when governors made their proposals. Mr Rodgers said: “We didn’t feel it was fair to take money from students in Amble to subsidise the education of 13 pupils, as it was at that time.”

Having two or three pupils per year group is ‘just not a sustainable model’, he concluded. “It’s reluctantly and with regret that governors feel that closure is the only viable option.”

However, parents don’t feel that the governing body ‘has taken the necessary time or actions to consider alternative options’, according to Steven Bush, who spoke at today’s meeting. He questioned why the governors didn’t start consulting until May when an informal decision had been taken in December 2016 and also said that it offered an opportunity for the local authority to explore options for alternative education.

“Closure at the end of December 2017 is clearly not based on the wellbeing of the children,” Mr Bush added.

“Continuing to the end of the academic year would give the children the continuity they deserve and allow other options to be fully explored.”

In a statement provided by local ward member, Coun Jeff Watson, he suggested that a delay to the summer should be considered if closure is to be approved and Mr Johnson confirmed that the committee and the cabinet should certainly consider if it was appropriate. And this was the feeling of a majority of the members.

Councillor Deidre Campbell said: “It’s wrong to uproot children in the middle of the winter.”

Concerns were also raised that the Church of England has not responded formally, although Mr Johnson will ask again prior to the cabinet meeting next week.

A ‘very disappointed’ Mr Bush said: “The church has washed its hands of the school.”

There are places available for the eight pupils across the other first and primary schools in the Coquet Partnership.

If the closure is approved, part of Acklington’s catchment area would be incorporated into Broomhill First School’s as the nearest school (1.3 miles) and part would be incorporated into that of Warkworth CofE Primary School as the closest Church of England school offering primary education (2.9 miles).

The council would guarantee transport to these schools for eligible pupils.

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ACKLINGTON SET TO LOSE SCHOOL

The following article was published by the Northumberland Gazette on 26th October 2017

  

Northumberland is set to lose one of its rural first schools at the end of the year, with the decision to be signed off at the start of next month.

A report to Tuesday’s meeting of the county council’s family and children’s services committee, which then goes to the cabinet for a decision on Tuesday, November 7, recommends approving the closure of Acklington CofE First School.

This is in line with what was put forward by the governing body and means the school would close its doors for the final time at the end of December.

Despite the first school becoming part of the James Calvert Spence College hard federation in 2015 to support it and reduce overheads, the falling pupil numbers meant the governors launched a consultation on closure in May.

At that time, there were 13 pupils on roll, but that has now fallen to just eight.

There are places available for the eight across the other first and primary schools in the Coquet Partnership.

 If the closure is approved, part of Acklington’s catchment area would be incorporated into Broomhill First School’s as the nearest school (1.3 miles) and part would be incorporated into that of Warkworth CofE Primary School as the closest Church of England school offering primary education (2.9 miles).

The council would guarantee transport to these schools for eligible pupils.

A consultation is also currently ongoing over proposals to close Belford Middle School and convert the village first school into a primary school, again due to viability conerns related to falling pupil numbers.

Mike Parker, director of SCHOOLS NorthEast, said: “All schools are under increasing pressure in the current system.

Rural schools serving isolated and sparse communities, in particular, are facing huge challenges in areas such as funding and school-to-school support.

“Statistics show that non-salaried expenditure in schools range from 10 per cent to 25 per cent of their budget, so schools with smaller pupil numbers have higher maintenance costs in comparison to schools with higher pupil numbers, such as those in rural communities.

“It must be said that there are some exceptional rural schools in our region and they are doing incredibly well despite the circumstances.

However, issues such as school closures will ultimately increase if the Government continues to fail to recognise the additional support isolated communities, and the schools within them, need.”
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LAST DITCH BID TO SAVE UNDER-THREAT SCHOOL

The following article was published by ChronicleLive on 29th September 2017

 

Parents are considering a radical form of teaching in a last-ditch bid to save an under-threat school.

Acklington C of E First School, in Northumberland, is set to close in December if it can’t be rescued.

Already one of the smallest schools in the country, the uncertainty over the school’s future drove three pupils away at the start of this term, while no new pupils joined the reception class, leaving just eight enrolled.

Bosses James Calvert Spence College Federation, who took over governance of the school in 2015, say it is no longer financially viable, and is draining resources from larger schools.

There is capacity for up to 56 pupils, but the federation say attempts to bring new families in have not worked.

Following an initial consultation, they’ve put forward plans to shut the school down to Northumberland County Council.

But now, parents say a plan to bring a unique form of teaching to the village could attract new parents.

They are set to approach the council with a proposal to transform Acklington into a ‘Steiner school’.

If it got the go-ahead, the school would be the first of its kind in the North East, and one of very few in the country - there are only four state-funded Steiner academies in the UK.

Though controversial in some quarters, the Steiner philosophy emphasises learning through play and practical experiences for younger children, keeping them away from formal tests until they’re much older and promoting an ‘unhurried and creative learning environment’.

The parents hope becoming an academy of this kind would draw in parents from the surrounding area looking for a different educational experience, bringing in enough families to make the school viable. They’ve begun holding Steiner classes in the village hall, and hope to be allowed to introduce the philosophy into the school.

Mum Andrea Aitkin, whose daughter Amelia, six, is a pupil, says she will fight for as long as she can to save the school, which has made a world of difference to her little girl.

Amelia’s sisters, now 18 and 21, attended much larger primary schools, and were shy and quiet as youngsters - but Andrea thinks bubbly Amelia’s bold nature is partly a result of her close-knit school environment.

She said: “My older children where always shy, they just got lost in this sea of people, and Amelia is so different, she’s outgoing, she speaks up - it’s a lovely little school.”

She says the closure would be “a shame for the community and a shame for the children” and that the looming closure date has put pressure on families.

“Amelia is quite sad about it - it’s not good for her. We’re trying not to let it get to her but she has obviously realised what’s happening.”

Andrea believe the Steiner proposal could be what’s needed to save the school she loves.

She said: “At the moment we’ve got no stability and that’s why we aren’t attracting people in the area.

This would bring something new to the table - there are quite a lot of people who home-school in the area who would be interested in this.

“It’s a bit controversial and it’s not run-of-the-mill but studies do show that there are still good pass rates for older children and they do reach university.”

• An open day will be held at Acklington C of E first school for interested parents on Thursday September 28.

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OPEN DAY AT UNDER-THREAT SCHOOL 'BAFFLES' OBJECTORS

The following article was published by the Northumberland Gazette on 28th September 2017

    

Campaigners fighting the proposed closure of a village school are ‘baffled’ by an advert promoting an open day to recruit more children.

It comes just a few weeks after the governing body of James Calvert Spence College (JCSC) launched a statutory consultation period over its plans to shut the doors of Acklington C of E First School at the end of December.

This follows an initial consultation period earlier this year to gauge opinion on the suggested closure, which was sparked due to falling pupil numbers – 13 children were on the roll last year, but now there’s eight – and the impact this has on the education provided.

The governing body also says that the buildings are dilapidated and the mobile classrooms are beyond repair and would need replacing.
A final decision will be made by the county council’s cabinet in November.

The closure proposal sparked dismay within the community, with protestors launching a petition.

Yet, they were staggered to see an advert in last week’s Gazette promoting an open day at the school, to be held today from 2pm to 3.30pm – just a fortnight after the statutory consultation was published.

One campaigner, who did not want to be named, said: “The governors decided that the school should be closed and the final decision will be made by the county council.

“We have lost some pupils to other schools and now we only have eight children.
“So we’re baffled by the advert promoting an open day.

“Are they mad? Who is going to consider moving their child to the school when the proposal is that it closes in December? I can’t believe it. I’ve even had a text message saying ‘so you’re not closing now?’”

However, the school has defended the open day. A JCSC spokeswoman said that it is being held because the school is still open and it is ‘business as usual’ while the statutory consultation on the proposed closure continues. She added that closure is not a foregone conclusion and the cabinet may decide that the school should remain open.

She said that parents will be made aware at the open day that the school is at risk of closure at the end of December.

The statutory consultation closes at midnight on Thursday, October 5. Emailcomments or objections to Lorraine.Fife@northumber land.gov.uk

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LACK OF OPENNESS OVER CLOSURE CONSULTATION

The following article was published by the Northumberland Gazette on 22nd June 2017

 

The Parents of Acklington C of E First School would like to thank the local community and beyond for the support shown to us, our children and the school as we fight to keep it open.

We acknowledge that rural and church schools may close, but the case must be strong and carefully consider alternatives. We were informed of the consultation by email on May 8, nearly four months after the decision was taken on January 19. The delay was attributed to local election purdah, but we are unsure of the relevance as Northumberland County Council isn’t involved at this stage.

A James Calvert Spence College (JCSC) working party held one meeting on January 4, to look at the school’s viability, but the minutes have been deemed confidential. We have been given no information on any other options that have been considered other than closure. At no point since the federation began have governors attempted to contact parents or community leaders privately to express concerns regarding the school’s future or elicit help and advice. Instead, their first act was to declare publicly the school unviable and undermine confidence that it was safe.

The document portrays the school unfairly in many respects. Describing the school as a financial drain isn’t an attempt to provide useful facts, but to tarnish it. The decreasing school roll next academic year will be the same as in early 2016 when the executive headteacher advised us that the school was safe. We already know the roll will increase the following year.

The extensive marketing campaign may have been geographically widespread, but only as an inclusion to the JCSC materials and not targeted more suitably for a first school.

Despite consistent good church inspections, the Diocese has declined to offer us advice. To the best of our knowledge, they currently have no governor representation and have not visited the school since the announcement.

JCSC promised an ‘open and honest’ process, but much requested information has been classed confidential or taken weeks to be delivered. The burden for solutions has been placed upon parents, but lack of information or access to support within education sector makes informed contributions difficult. Yet we are doing what we can – raising awareness; engaging the community and local government; proposing cost-cutting; and investigating a future outside the federation.

The village is large enough to support a school although some children attend elsewhere due to the threat of closure. The housing developments of Amble and its surrounding areas, including Acklington, will only result in further increasing first school class sizes.

Six weeks of consultation is insufficient for review of all options and we will be asking governors to explore solutions properly, both inside and outside the federation, in conjunction with parents, Northumberland County Council, the Diocese and the community.

There is a public meeting with governors today at 4pm at the James Calvert Spence College high-school site on Acklington Road. The last date for consultation responses is Monday.

In July 2015, plans for a hard federation were agreed – leading to ‘three-tier education under one name’ – as it was announced that Amble’s JCSC, featuring the middle and high school, and Acklington C of E First School were to operate under a new, single governing body. Reasons given by governing body The consultation document says: ‘In the light of falling numbers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide the best educational experience’.

It adds that the formation of the hard federation in 2015 was ‘to give more stability and prevent the first school from closure which would have otherwise been imminent’, but despite a raft of support being introduced since then, there are only 13 children on roll and there is no anticipated intake into nursery or reception in September, meaning ‘it is increasingly difficult to provide a broad and balanced curriculum at the school’.

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FIGHT TO SAVE VILLAGE SCHOOL GATHERS PACE

The following article was published by the Northumberland Gazette on 17th May 2017

A petition and fund-raising campaign have been launched in a desperate bid to save a village school from closure.

  

Last week, the Gazette reported that the governing body of James Calvert Spence College (JCSC) Federation has started a consultation on a proposal to shut Acklington C of E First School at the end of December.

With 13 children on the roll, falling pupil numbers and the impact this has on the education provided has been cited as the main reason for closing the facility.

The governing body also says that the buildings are dilapidated and the mobile classrooms are beyond repair and would need replacing.

The consultation document states that all pupils would be found places at other local schools, but staff could be at risk of redundancy.

The news has caused dismay in the community and sparked objectors into action.

An online petition has been started to try to save the school, which is described by campaigners as wonderful and one-of-a-kind in the area.

The petition – signed by more than 300 people so far and available at tinyurl.com/kkrn4lc – states: ‘The children love the school and it would be awful for them to see it go.’

Alongside this, an online campaign to raise £80,000 to help buy new mobile classrooms has been launched at tinyurl.com/k5edb5r

A statement from concerned parents reads: ‘We are devastated by the news that the federation is consulting about closure. ‘This has come as a huge shock and the needs of the federation’s youngest children have been overlooked. We feel that governors have been hasty to propose closure before fully exploring effective alternatives.’

The Save Our School Acklington C Of E First School page has been started on Facebook. Messages from pupils, saying how much they love the school and how they want it to stay open, have been posted on it.

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NORTHUMBERLAND SCHOOL WITH JUST 13 PUPILS FACES CLOSURE


The following article was published by the MailOnline on 15th May 2017

Parents battle to save one of Britain's smallest schools where just 13 PUPILS are educated after it was taken over by college federation that says it's not 'financially viable'

 

• Acklington Village First School, in Northumberland, may close by Christmas
• James Calvert Spence College Federation took over school's governance in 2015
• Federation says falling pupil numbers (it has capacity for 45) and rising costs mean school is draining resources from larger schools
• Five other first schools are within 7-mile radius, closest of which is 1.3 miles away

Parents have launched a fight to save one of the country's smallest schools - which currently has just 13 pupils - from closure.

A consultation has begun which could see Acklington Village First School, in Northumberland, shut for good before Christmas this year.

James Calvert Spence College Federation, who took over governance of the school in 2015, say falling pupil numbers and rising costs mean the school isn't financially viable, and it is draining resources from larger schools.

With its current enrolment, the first school is one of the smallest in England.

However, it has capacity for 45 pupils, and campaigners hope that by raising the profile of the school they can encourage more parents to send their children there.

They also say the school's size - small even when at full capacity - is one of the things they love about it.

Steven Bush, whose four-year-old daughter Imogen attends the school, and who hopes to send his one-year-old son Robin there in the future, said: 'We like the fact that it's a small school - you get a level of education,the bespokeness and personalisation that you just don't receive in bigger schools.

'A lot of kids have really come on in that environment, because you get the support that means you can really focus; extra help can be really targeted.'

According to the consultation document, there are five other first schools within a seven-mile radius, the closest of which is 1.3 miles away.

But Mr Bush believes the loss of the school would harm the village community. He said: 'You would have to get in the car - some of the parents aren't two-car families, we're not sure what transport would be available to them.

'These schools are not the village school, they're not our school. The children love the school, and the education they receive there is good.'

The document details the support which has been provided to the school, which is rated 'good' by Ofsted, over the last 21 months by the federation, including increasing teaching capacity, and providing HR and IT support from its other schools.

It says that initiatives such as breakfast and after-school clubs haven't succeeded in attracting new parents to the school.

The document says: 'With such small numbers, it is increasingly difficult to provide a broad and balanced curriculum at the school, and to offer the children sufficient educational, social, emotional and cultural experiences to ensure they achieve their full academic potential.'

It adds: 'The buildings are dilapidated and a recent survey suggested that the mobile classrooms are beyond repair and would need replacing.'

It claims that in just the last month, the school has suffered boiler leaks and a lack of heating in the mobile building containing the toilets, and that potential health and safety risks are multiplying.

Futhermore, they say nearby schools in the federation have 'heavily subsidised' the first school, and that in the long term that could become 'detrimental' to the education of pupils at South Avenue and Acklington Road schools.

On a Change.org petition, one mother, Andrea Aitkin, said: 'As the school is small, the children benefit from almost one-to-one learning which allows the children to learn quicker and progress faster in our fun environment.

'They have a wonderful outdoor play area with a forest garden to explore and learn in with the help of the wonderful teaching staff.

'We also have free breakfast club facilities and after-school club which make us perfect for working parents.

'Most importantly, the children love the school and it would be awful for them to see it go.'

Consultation documents will be considered by governors.

If bosses decide to continue with the closure, plans will be presented to Northumberland County Council, which will have the final decision on whether or not to shut the school gates for good.

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WILL NORTHUMBERLAND VILLAGE SCHOOL BE ANOTHER VICTIM?

 
 

The following article was published by Northumberland Gazette on 11th May2017

A rural village school is under threat of closing due to falling pupil numbers, but campaigners have vowed to fight to save it.

The governing body of the James Calvert Spence College (JCSC) Federation has started a consultation about closing Acklington C of E First School at the end of December.

There are currently 13 pupils on the roll and they would be found places at other local schools if the proposal goes ahead. Staff, however, could face redundancy.

Opponents have expressed their disappointment and say it is another example of rural areas losing key facilities, including schools.

The consultation document states: ‘In the light of falling numbers at the school, it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide the best educational experience for children at Acklington C of E First School.

‘The governing body has therefore reluctantly concluded that it must consider the option of closing the school and re-directing the pupils to other local schools.

‘There are currently only 13 children on roll and there is no anticipated intake into nursery or reception in September 2017.

‘Schools receive funding based on the number of pupils they have on roll, rather than the size of the school building.

‘The buildings are dilapidated and a recent survey suggested that the mobile classrooms are beyond repair and would need replacing.’

The document says that staff would be considered for employment at the other sites within the federation, if there are vacant posts and they are suitable.

Where there is no additional staff required, staff at the school would be ‘at risk’ of redundancy.

In 2015, Acklington C of E First School became part of the JCSC hard federation, creating one governing body to oversee the three schools – including the JCSC Acklington Road and South Avenue sites in Amble – with each school retaining its own budget.

This was done to give more stability and prevent the first school from closure which ‘would have otherwise been imminent’. At the time, the school had 10 students and two children in nursery.

A support package has been in place for 21 months, including a marketing campaign to attract more pupils and a free breakfast club, among other things.

But the governing body says with the small pupil numbers ‘it is increasingly difficult to provide a broad and balanced curriculum at the school’.

The consultation document adds: ‘The governing body recognises that the closure of the school would have an impact on the village community served by the school.

‘However, the decision to consult on the closure has been made after much deliberation and with great reluctance. There are five other first schools within a seven-mile radius with pupil places available and the facilities and buildings are better equipped and in better condition.’

But opponents are determined to do all they can to stop the proposal from going ahead.

Parents, staff, children and members of the community met at Acklington Village Hall on Tuesday night to discuss ways forward in a bid to save the school. Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Berwick, attended.

Danielle Forsyth, who works at the school, said: “As a parent who has had three children through the school, I feel devastated at the news that it could close in December.

“My own children thrived at the school and I have never had to worry about their education.

“As a current employee I get to see every day how the children enjoy coming into school and how they interact with one another. The personalised learning that a small school can provide ensures that each child receives the education best suited to their needs.”

Another parent added: “Everyone in the village is realistic, but we are fighting to keep the school open.”

Anne-Marie, as well as Julie Pörksen and Scott Dickinson, who are the Lib Dem and Labour Parliamentary candidates for Berwick, have vowed to talk and listen to the school and objectors.

Anne-Marie said: “Worried parents and local residents understand how vital the school is to the future of their community.”

Scott said it is a difficult time for rural schools, while Julie added that ‘village schools are crucial in attracting families to rural communities and to keep them vibrant.’