Concerns over the future of middle schools

Fears have been raised that three-tier education could be scrapped in the borough.

Officials at North Tyneside Council have revealed they are carrying out a review into the education system.

But despite the best ever GCSE and A-level results last year, the authority wants to look at all schools.

One major issue facing the council is surplus places, with some schools having 25 per cent of their availability unfilled – resulting in a negative impact on funding.

A letter sent to parents last week blamed surplus places on changes to the birth rate, where families live, and Kings Priory School, which opened in Tynemouth last September.

However, parents now fear the review could lead to recommendations to scrap three-tier education in Whitley Bay as a quick-fix solution to reduce the number of surplus places.

One Whitley Bay parent said: “This letter left me shocked and confused.

“For starters, it came as a surprise that the council had deemed it necessary to review the way the schools operate because I thought that our network of state schools was serving young people well as they always seem to do well in the Ofsted inspections.

“It left me a bit confused because the letter does not make it clear what the council is planning.

“They have to come clean and be open and transparent with parents. You have to presume that the three-tier system is under-threat again and if that it is the case such a move should be strongly resisted.”

The review aims to shape the education system for the next ten years and will look at elements including population change, buildings, facilities and financial factors.

Detailed proposals will then be drawn up, which will go out for consultation.

But Conservative group leader Coun Judith Wallace has hit out that parents will not be involved until the end.

She said: “Labour now sees a chance to attack the middle school system, and the assets, and blame it on Kings Priory School.

“It is also very concerning that while no firm decisions have been made, once they are made, then there will be consultation. This is absolutely the wrong way round – I fear parents will be faced with a done-deal.”

David Bilton, chief executive of Woodard Academies Trust, the sponsor of Kings Priory School, said it was unfair to blame the school for any problems.

“It is unfair to point the finger at Kings Priory School for the number of surplus school places in the North Tyneside area,” he said.

“This issue was on the agenda long before Kings Priory School opened. We know from the studies undertaken prior to the funding agreement being signed, that the new Academy has had no impact on surplus places at primary level.”

A council spokesperson said six new school builds in the pipeline for the borough, including a new primary school in Longbenton, new builds for Marden High, John Spence Community High and Whitehouse Primary schools, an expansion and relocation of Backworth Primary School, and a rebuild of Longbenton Community College.

They added: “Our borough is changing, and we need to understand exactly how those changes will impact on our school system.

“The council has a responsibility to make sure there is a sufficient supply of good school places in the borough.”

Speaking about three-tier education the spokesperson added: “The review is not about one particular area and its systems.

“It is a holistic, borough-wide review which will look at the schools system in North Tyneside as a whole, as well as looking in detail at individual schools.

“Because the review is still underway, it would be wrong to speculate about its outcomes.

“However, we can reassure parents that any proposals for structural change would only be put forward if there was shown to be a risk of failure that could not be managed by individual schools or through school-to-school collaboration.