Senior Conservatives were accused of “playing politics” yesterday after they voiced fears for the future of traditional three-tier education in rural Northumberland.
Hexham MP Guy Opperman and county council Tory group leader Peter Jackson raised their concerns following the decision to close Allendale Middle School.
On Monday the council’s Labour-dominated policy board finally sounded the death knell for the 137-pupil village school – which has been under threat of closure for nine months following an adverse Ofsted report.
Yesterday Mr Opperman and Coun Jackson condemned the decision to shut the school next month, and claimed it raises a question mark over other middle schools in west Northumberland.
Allendale Middle has been under special measures since September, and coalition Government policy means the only options were closure or conversion to a sponsored academy.
Yesterday Mr Opperman said: “This is a sad news, not just for the people of Allendale but for the whole of Tynedale. Our middle schools are the bedrock of education here, and it is hard to treat the decision on Allendale in isolation. Tynedale’s three-tier education system has been broken apart for the first time in 40 years.”
He said the decision to close the school had been “rushed,” and claimed forcing children into two-tier education was not the way to solve the local problems.
“One thing, however, is clear to me: the fight must now be on to make the case for our excellent remaining middle schools across Tynedale.”
Coun Jackson said: “We saw last time Labour ran the county council they were determined to see the closure of our middle schools. I am not sure much has changed.”
However, the concerns were firmly rejected by Labour councillor Robert Arckless, policy board member for children’s services. “This is simply the Tories playing politics, and they know it. I am not here to impose a system across the county, and there is no grand plan to do that. I said yesterday, loud and clear, that even if we wanted to impose a two-tier system of education we couldn’t, because the county council no longer has the strategic power to do that.
“What the Tories are saying is nonsense. Even if we tried to do it, schools now have the opportunity to become academies, so if they didn’t like a new system they could opt out.
“Any kind of change like this has to be either an approach from schools, or as a result of the kind of situation facing Allendale Middle. The decision on Allendale was taken in accordance with the law.”