Some of us recognised years ago that there is a problem with Morpeth schools being full and that this can only be made worse due to the planned growth of the town.
Local Conservatives claim they can show that the modelling used to predict need for school places is faulty, and this has been confirmed by an independent expert. Anybody with an understanding of education in the town knows that there is a serious problem, but because of wrangling between Labour and Conservatives the issue is simply used as a punch bag by both sides.
Labour claim that the Conservatives asked them why they did not open any new schools. The answer given by Labour was that the Conservative government insists that all new schools must be Academies or Free Schools, so the County Council cannot build any new schools. Of course it is open to them to set up their own academy chain that could operate as arm’s length organisations such as Arch or Active Northumberland!
There is government some money available for expansion of schools and for major repairs to existing school buildings. However, instead of agreeing to look into the much needed expansion of schools, Labour insist that Morpeth schools have 20% of their places taken up by pupils from out of catchment and that parents should “allow their children to be educated locally”. Let them explain that to the parents from Pegswood, Ashington, Ellington etc. whose children already attend school in Morpeth and who may wish their brothers and sisters to join them. We cannot just throw those children out of their schools; that would not be right educationally or morally. We have to deal with the problem in a practical and reasonable manner. The right to parental choice is indeed government policy and has been for many years, but I do not remember Labour nationally wanting to remove that right. Furthermore, it is Labour who are insisting that Morpeth is the focus for more housing growth than local people want.
Local Education Authorities retain responsibility for “place planning”. They have the duty to ensure that sufficient school places are provided. However, Labour in Northumberland will not look into this while they are jealous of the success of Morpeth schools and while they consider that success to be a threat to schools elsewhere. A party that says that the best way to save rural schools or to retain pupils in schools elsewhere is; “not to build new private schools for parental choice” is simply demonstrating its’ prejudice.
There is no doubt that the Three Rivers Learning Trust that includes KEVI, Newminster and Chantry, could consider setting up a Free School. However, it is up to the County Council to work towards it with them, not ignore or deny the problem.