A switch from three to two tier schooling in a Northumberland town has moved a step closer.
A statutory notice has been published of proposals to move five schools at Ashington from a system of first, middle and high to primary and secondary - plans which would see the closure of two middle schools.
The move comes after more than two thirds of people responding to a consultation on the proposals backed the switch.
It triggers a further month of consultation before a final decision is made in December.
Heads at the schools have spoken of their desire to “build on the progress our schools have made and create an outstanding learning environment for children.”
Yet a leading member of an online group which has opposed the switch spoke of the impacts on children and voiced support for the three tier system.
The Journal reported earlier this year how the Federated Governing Body of the Ashington Learning Partnership (ALP) Trust had begun consultation on plans to switch from three to two tier.
The proposals were for the closure of Hirst Park and Bothal middle schools, with effect from the end of the 2014/2015 school year.
They also suggested the extension of the age ranges of Central and Wansbeck first schools from three to nine, to two to 11 from the start of the 2015/16 academic year.
The age range of Ashington High was proposed to change from 13 to 18 to 11 to 18.
The proposals sparked some concerns among parents at the schools, with questions over reasoning behind the move, the need for it and the impact on children.
Petitions were launched and a Facebook group set up, which has 175 members.
The ALP has now revealed 68% of the parents and staff across all five schools who expressed an opinion during the consultation either agreed or strongly agreed.
Those who disagreed raised concerns over the closure of the middle schools.
A statutory notice of the proposals was published earlier this month, triggering a further four weeks of consultation which end on November 5.
Northumberland County Council’s policy board will make a final decision on the proposals in December.
A spokesman for Ashington Learning Partnership said: “We are grateful to all of the staff, parents and pupils who have taken part in the consultation process.
“We have taken on board all of the feedback we have received and of course we’re delighted to have a clear majority in favour of the proposal to convert to two tiers.
“Our ambition is to build on the progress our schools have made and to create an outstanding learning environment for children from the age of two all the way up to post-16 students.
“This is an important step on a journey that will bring great benefits to local children and to their future employers.”
Yet Facebook group member Kirsty Ricalton, 37, whose seven year old daughter Jorja goes to Central First school and who set up a petition which 265 people signed, raised a number of concerns.
She said: “There will be no less transition points, because children will still be using schools over three sites.
“Lots of children will face upheaval because places for two year olds are being provided, yet county councillors stated that ‘children are adaptable’ - tell them that when a child is crying at 2am because they are worried about changing schools!
“Choice is ultimately being taken away from parents who chose to place our children in a three tier system, if we’d wanted to use a two tier system, we would have enrolled in the Church of England Academy.
“There is substantial evidence to support three tier systems as being the best system for children, yet this has been completely overlooked by the ALP and its consultation process.”