4 April 2018

We say no

Northumberland County Council, you represent us. Your Councillors are elected by us, and your budgets come from our purses. To you, and to this whole exercise, we say no.

We’re not against change. I have no axe to grind on two-tier versus three-tier. We can agree on change together. That’s what consultation means. That’s what consultation is. At least, that’s what consultation should be.

But your false consultation is unacceptable. You have used our money to propose closing our successful and dearly loved school. No. Enough. This stops now. We say no.

You have not worked with us — you have sprung this on us. You have not followed DfE guidance on the closure of rural schools. That guidance requires you to ensure that closure of our school is “clearly in the best interests of educational provision in the area”. You offer no evidence for this. We say no.

You appear to be representing not us, but Hadrian Learning Trust. These proposals work to the Trust’s advantage, in some cases facilitating the changes they want, and giving them a monopoly over secondary education in our area. They are not your constituents. We are. And we say no.

I am told you held a closed meeting with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, telling them that they must accept option A. I am told that Governors of St Joseph’s Middle School were then told to accept option A against the strongly-expressed wish of some of them not to do so. If your consultation results in a Church intimidating its own clergy, dare I venture that perhaps you’re doing it wrong?

This is not consultation. Open the doors. You know as well as us that a closed meeting has no place in a consultation. We say no.

Your staff tell us that you have been challenged to solve the issue of “surplus places”. Why? When a school is viable, what is wrong with surplus places? When a school is successful, what is wrong with surplus places? You say it’s not about bricks and mortar, but that’s all these surplus places are: our schools are not employing teachers for any surplus places.

What is wrong with surplus places?

I don’t want an answer from you. I want that to be your response to Whitehall: “What is wrong with surplus places?”

You work for us. That is your job. Northumberland is the most sparsely populated county in England, and west Northumberland is one of its sparsest regions. One size does not fit all, and Whitehall’s size does not come within a country mile of fitting us.

We want these schools. We pay for these schools. It is our choice. We say no.

Our Parish Councils represent us. Our National Park Authority represents us. They say no. And we say no.

You represent us. You work for us.

We. Say. No.

Submitted in response to Northumberland County Council consultation on schools in west Northumberland