Voices from the Farming community

Farming families are concerned that the loss of their rural schools will result in children having to travel long distances each day to attend school, putting them at a disadvantage to city and town-based children.

Under the three options proposed by Northumberland County Council, pupils will travel an additional 375,000 miles each year at a minimum, according to STARS’ analysis. Under some scenarios the distances could be significantly greater.

Studies have shown that long journeys to school have a negative effect on children’s educational performance. Tiredness or an inability to participate in extracurricular activities reduce academic achievement.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle, CBE, has voiced his concern that the loss of village schools would undermine the social cohesion of rural communities.

“I was appalled at the scale of the proposed school closures being considered in the South West of our County,” he said. “Particularly when many of the schools have stable, if not growing, pupil numbers, and in the case of Chollerton an ‘Outstanding’  Ofstead report.”
“The village school is an absolutely vital element in maintaining rural communities,” he continued. “To close the school will deter families from moving into the village, ultimately undermine the viability of the other key services and impact adversely on village communities.”
“The school is where relationships are established and is the focal point of social activities. The closure of rural schools cannot be considered purely on short-term economic grounds. It’s social impact could have consequences which are far more serious and could be far more costly in the longer term,” he concluded.

Lisa Crocker from Blakelaw Farm in West Woodburn said it would take her children (ages 9 and 6) up to 40 minutes to travel to and from school by bus each day should their ‘local’ school close.

Her children currently attend West Woodburn First School, which is located 5.8 miles from the farm. The school is earmarked for closure under all three of the council’s options.

“At busy periods in the farming calendar we would have little spare time to do an hour-round trip to collect the kids from after-school clubs or extra-curricular activities,” she explained. “With no service buses coming within five miles of our farm they would have to miss out, putting them at a disadvantage to their urban peers.”

“The loss of the school to our village will have a knock-on effect to the whole of the community,” she added. “From families choosing to move nearer to the other schools, to the demise of the village shop due to a reduced footfall.”

“The closure of West Woodburn school would further isolate the people of our village. As farmers we live where we work, we can’t just move near to the amenities.”


ASPIRE outlines six crucial ingredients for success based on feedback from schools and parents.

The council’s consultation put forward three options, which included the closure of up to 16 rural schools. The consultation also asked staff, parents and the wider community for their views and ideas.

We are responding with our “ASPIRE” vision, drawing on both practical and innovative suggestions from across the Hexham and Haydon Bridge partnerships to outline a way forward.

ASPIRE calls for a model of education that maintains and builds on the successful outcomes already achieved by schools across West Northumberland whilst also ensuring their future viability and sustainability.

ASPIRE stands for:

A – alliance
S – size
P – parental choice
I – innovative
R– rural
E – experience

Our schools need to work together to deliver the education we want for our children and to help them transition between Key Stages. NCC must think about how it invests across all age groups to make the biggest difference and benefit from the new funding formula. In its “alternative model” Corbridge Middle School proposed the formation of education hubs to “create more all-through collaborations” (http://www.corbridgemiddle.co.uk/ewcalternative2.html).

STARS would like to see an education system which supports schools to work together to support every child, rather than one in which schools are focused only on children within their walls

NCC’s Options A and B create a single ‘super-school’ with over 2,200 children. It would be the fifth biggest school of its type in England. In comparison, the remaining primaries would be among the smallest. Our current education model manages each child’s journey in a series of stages. Small rural schools feed into larger rural middles, which feed into one of two high schools. This means children are carefully transitioned into larger environments but does mean more transitions overall.

All the proposals we have seen for moving to two tier education have to recreate the transitions in a different form – merging schools into bigger primaries (with bigger catchment areas), creating clusters of schools with a hub for years 5 and 6, or schools within schools to help children adapt to a much larger environment.

STARS would like to see an education model which is financially sustainable without relying on growing schools to a size which reduces pastoral care for children

Parental Choice
Closing up to 16 first schools, creating a ‘super-school’ or moving to a two-tier system would inevitably reduce the choices available to parents in future. This could lead to a position where if a school deteriorated, children would be unable to find a better one. It could also lead to a curriculum which is not broad enough for children whose talents are not in core academic subjects.

STARS would like to see an education system which maintains and supports parental choice. We believe Haydon Bridge High School must be saved if this is to be a reality

Across the UK and internationally schools are exploring new and innovative models of teaching and learning. These include more collaborative models where teachers work across multiple schools to deliver specialist education, online learning to provide a wider range for quality education so sixth formers have access to the best teachers nationally and a broader range of subjects and apprenticeships where employers and young people work together to develop the skills they need.

STARS would like to see the council thinking more creatively about its education model and how children are taught, rather than just focusing on the buildings they are taught in.

Northumberland is the most rural county in England and the communities of West Northumberland are among the most sparsely populated in the County. The transport network is poor with many single-track roads and a lack of public transport between villages and towns. The schools are at the heart of communities – providing facilities for wider use and attracting young families. Some provide nursery care to enable parents to work.

The proposed merged catchment for Bellingham Middle is almost the size of Tyne and Wear combined.  The catchment for a Hexham super-school would cover over 1,000 square miles ( larger than the size of Greater London). Such changes would increase travel locally by at least 375,000 miles per annum, putting rural children at a disadvantage to their urban peers, exacerbating pollution, congestion and wear and tear on already poor roads.

STARS would like to see rural schools given every opportunity to thrive so they can continue to support their communities and economies

Our schools produce exceptional standards – but what parents tell us they value is the experience their children get. We’ve heard lots from parents whose children have special needs met in unique and valuable ways by their schools, and from parents who have moved between schools for a more creative curriculum or more pastoral care. It’s clear that parents value the journey as much as the academic outcome.

STARS would like Northumberland County Council to develop a model which considers the experience of children as much as the academic outcomes



Broomhaugh C. of E. First School formal response

We have been given permission to present the Broomhaugh C. of E. First School formal response from the Governing body.

Their conclusions:

The future of our children, our schools and our communities is at stake.

The reality is that the final decision on what happens next lies not in our hands but with the Council, HLT and the RSC.

Whatever the eventual outcome we are confident that we can and will continue to provide outstanding education at Broomhaugh. Once decisions have been made we will work constructively, collaboratively and with absolute commitment to implement them in the best way possible.

Those decisions, however, have yet to be made.

We expect and encourage all decision makers, not least the Council, to exert their power and responsibility to creating a solution that is absolutely the very best it can be and not a crude, rushed solution.

There are still many critical questions left unanswered by HLT and much rigorous and public scrutiny still required.

We do not believe that the right solution is simply to green light the HLT proposal and force the rest of the system to fall into line come what may. We do not believe that this is the only solution.

We ask the Council to consider our response and those of all other schools, parents and members of the community very carefully. And to provide us with an innovative, unique and truly fit for purpose system of education.

It’s the least generations of children in the West of Northumberland and all the amazing people working so hard and with such great results at our fantastic schools deserve.

A link to the full response is provided below.




Star showering

16 rural schools  threatened with closure receive garlands of homemade stars as controversial Northumberland County Council (NCC) school consultations draw to a close.

The parents and children of the schools, representing nearly half of all those in this part of the region, were greeted as they entered the school gates with displays of stars, one for every student at the school.


Operation Starry Night

Several volunteers from the STARS campaign were involved in “Operation Starry Night”, travelling over 100 miles in an effort to ensure that every child in every school received his or her own unique star.

Helen Hunter, a Broomley First School parent and keen craftswoman, made thousands of stars by hand, with help from some of her friends. The delicate crochet, felt and pipe cleaner star garlands were left with a special note for each school, including the following message:

“Like the dark skies of rural Northumberland, each school in the Haydon Bridge and Hexham Partnerships contain a galaxy of the brightest stars – our children. Some galaxies are small, some are larger, but all shine brightly in their individual, unique and wonderful settings.”

“Each school is unique and special, and working together they provide a wonderful educational experience for the children of West Northumberland.”