MP hits out at proposed Northumberland schools shake-up

CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Chronicle Live

Conservative MP Guy Opperman has objected to the plans which could see a number of schools in the west of the county being closed, the Chronicle Live reports.

Hexham MP Guy Opperman has hit out at a council’s proposals to shake-up its education system and potentially close a number of schools.

Around 16 schools face being shut down as part of Northumberland County Council’s plans to cull under-subscribed and financially vulnerable schools.

Three models have been proposed by the authority which could potentially see west Northumberland move away from a three-tier education system.

The plans, which are now open to a three-month consultation, have attracted criticism and anger by many families in the community.

Now Mr Opperman has written a letter to councillor Wayne Daley, the council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for children’s services, in which he says he “cannot support” any of the three models being proposed.

He has also asked for a meeting with education bosses to discuss the plans further and urges them to taken the views of the local people into account.

Mr Opperman said: “You will appreciate that the consultation has caused much concern amongst local parents and the wider community, including the various church organisations.

“I urge you and your education officers to meet with me at the earliest opportunity to discuss this matter, so I can articulate the concerns of myself and my constituents.

“Whilst I accept it may be legitimate for NCC to have a consultation with parents and local people on the future of education in the west, especially regarding the situation at Haydon Bridge and Hexham QEHS, it is vital that their voices are both heard and listened to.”

He adds: “I, like many of our community, do accept that there are important issues to be addressed going forward, such as falling roll numbers in some of the schools, however this must be done in sensible dialogue with the schools and the community.”

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The Conservative MP says he wishes to focus on the funding and financial element of the consultation.

For years he has been campaigning for a better funding deal for schools, which “for decades were underfunded by central Government”.

He points out that he launched the campaign in 2013, which will result in an uplift in funding for education.

Mr Opperman added: “The Government has since consulted and agreed on a national funding formula for schools in 2017.

“At present, similar local areas and similar schools receive very different levels of funding, even within Tynedale, with little or no justification.

“A national funding formula is the only way that we can ensure that children with similar needs will attract the same funding, no matter where they live in the country.”

Mr Opperman asks that the consultation should look at the new formula which he says would result in a funding increase for schools that are being considered for closure.

In the Hexham constituency, he says schools will see on average a 3.3% increase in total funding when the new formula is implemented and, in the schools named in the consultation, the approximate average is a 5.8% rise in funds.

Coun Daley has previously said that the council was determined to build an education system “fit for the future”.

He said: “We will be working closely with all those involved in education in the west of the county, with staff, parents and the wider community to find a solution that will be in the best educational interests of all the children in the area.

“We have not made a decision on any school closures at all. We urge people to take part in the consultation and I am keen to listen to any alternative ideas they may have.”

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