A PUBLIC meeting has been called to discuss the future of education at Belford First School.
The meeting primarily aims to allay any immediate concerns parents might have as a result of budget cuts hitting rural schools.
However, possible alternative models of education, such as sharing the same site as the neighbouring St Mary’s Middle School, will also be discussed
Ali Gilholme, vice chairman of governors at Belford First School, said: “The fact is that all country schools are facing cutbacks, but we’re not going to sit here and just wait for it to happen. We want to be ready for any eventuality to ensure that children will get an education in this village from the age of four to 13.”
A letter sent out to parents last week by chairman of governors Dr Saul Miller invites people to come along and discuss the issue on Monday, February 25 from 6pm to 7pm in the school hall.
Dr Miller states: “New government funding rules mean small rural schools are facing severe cuts to their budget. Allowances for the size of school buildings and grounds have been removed, making income even more closely tied to pupil numbers than before. This means schools like ours, with large premises and few children will lose money in future. Worse still, pupil numbers in Northumberland are still falling.
“There is no crisis. But if we do nothing, the problems will worsen. Over time, schools like ours will spend an ever bigger share of their budget simply on their buildings and not on their pupils. Education will suffer.”
Three potential options have been put forward. Option one is to cut costs, mainly through staff reductions but Dr Miller says that the governing body is reluctant to take this step.
A second option would be to convert to academy status and become a primary school, keeping children in years 5 and 6. However, it is recognised this would not be helpful to St Mary’s Middle School.
The third and best option, say governors, would be for the Belford schools to share one building.
“This would need both governing bodies to cooperate very closely - and possibly to merge - though the schools themselves would keep separate identities,” said Dr Miller. “Of course, it would not be easy. Still, we think this is the best option for keeping 5-13 education in the village. It is our preferred option.”