6 July 2018

A once-in-a-generation opportunity

Haydon Bridge High School catchment area is more than twice the size of any other Northumberland high or secondary catchment. It is nearly four times the size of its neighbouring catchment of Hexham, the other school partnership affected by Northumberland Council’s consultation and proposed changes to education in west Northumberland.

Here’s what Haydon Bridge catchment looks like overlaid on Yorkshire:

Haydon Bridge over Yorkshire
© OpenStreetMap contributors, © CARTO. Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

The areas and distances are enormous, the equivalent of an area covering Bradford, Leeds, Wakefield, Barnsley, and Sheffield. This is unusual. Yes, it is sparsely populated. However, sparse population doesn’t explain away the problem. The sparsity makes it harder.

Northumberland Council spoke of “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a school system that delivers the very best education in the long term”. This is a unique area with its own very difficult geographic issues. However, the Council proposal is to change to the most commonplace educational system in England.

So what is the Council’s plan? At just over a quarter of the area of Haydon Bridge catchment, leave Hexham partnership three-tier, but make Haydon Bridge partnership two-tier by closing Bellingham Middle School.

Let’s restate that: middle schools, which reduce travel distance for 12–13-year-olds, remain in the much smaller Hexham partnership, but are abolished in the much larger Haydon Bridge, leading to immense journey times.

The most upsetting aspect of this is how utterly mundane the Council’s proposal is: make no change in the more densely populated environs of Hexham, whose residents made enough noise to scare them off, while forcing the vast and sparsely populated areas of west Northumberland into the two-tier system commonplace throughout the rest of the country. We made as much noise as Hexham, but there are many fewer of us.

It’s all down to population and votes. More people live in the Hexham partnership catchment, so the Council cannot risk losing their votes. The Council even gave this as their reason for opposing two-tier in Hexham:

Cabinet could not support the proposal to close Hexham Middle School and extend the age range of Queen Elizabeth High School due to the impact this would have on other schools in the Hexham Partnership. This decision was based upon the lack of support from other educational professionals in schools and the widespread objections raised by the community.

Let’s apply those arguments to the Haydon Bridge proposal:

Cabinet support the proposal to close Bellingham Middle School and extend the age range of Haydon Bridge High School despite the impact this will have on other schools in the Haydon Bridge Partnership. This decision was made despite the lack of support from other educational professionals in schools and the widespread objections raised by the community.

So it’s all down to votes. There are not enough of us in the Haydon Bridge catchment to be worth listening to. Northumberland Council no longer represents us.

It’s not what we want. We say no.