Teachers in Northumberland begin strike action over middle school closures

Glendale Middle School in Wooler is one of three schools set to close under Northumberland County Councils plans to move to a two-tier system in the Berwick partnership
-Credit: (Image: Copyright Unknown)

Teachers in North Northumberland are striking in response to plans to close three middle schools in the county.

Wooler's Glendale, Tweedmouth and Berwick middle schools are all set to close as part of a move to a two-tier system of education in the Berwick Partnership. It means that between 50 and 60 teachers are at threat of losing their jobs.

NASUWT - The Teachers’ Union - claim that Northumberland County Council has "failed to honour" its pledge to protect staff from job losses and members have now walked out for six days. The council has argued it has done everything possible to limit job losses.

John Hall, NASUWT National Executive Member for Northumberland, said: “Teachers at all three schools have been left in limbo, not knowing what the future holds for them and their careers.

“This reorganisation should be an opportunity to strengthen education provision locally, not undermine it by losing dozens of experienced teachers.”

The union also stated that the council is "refusing" to consider redeploying teachers or offer a voluntary redundancy scheme.

Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT General Secretary, added: “Imposing compulsory redundancies on teachers would represent a huge loss of expertise, experience and talent for current and future cohorts of pupils in the area.

“We believe the council owes it to staff and pupils to pursue other options such as redeployment so that as many jobs can be saved as possible. We have sought at every stage of this process to work with the council, but due to a lack of progress our members have been left with no option than to move to strike action.

“The council must now listen and work with us on a plan to avoid the compulsory loss of these skilled and dedicated teachers from their local community.”

NASUWT members on the picket line in Berwick as teachers strike over the closure of three Northumberland schools.
NASUWT members on the picket line in Berwick as teachers strike over the closure of three Northumberland schools. -Credit:Georgina Hill

Coun Guy Renner Thompson, the Conservative administration's cabinet member for education, explained that the reality was there was simply not enough children in the area to support the same amount of schools.

He said: "We're doing everything in our power to keep redundancies to a minimum. The overlying fact is that people in Berwick and North Northumberland haven't been having enough children.

"Without the numbers of children, you can't sustain the number of schools. We took the decision to keep open Scremerston and Norham first schools which were earmarked for closure, because we recognised how important they are to communities.

"There just aren't the numbers of children. Some of these schools were built in the 1950s for 150 kids, and they've got 12 children in them."

The move to two-tier and away from the middle school model comes ahead of a £41 million investment into the Berwick Partnership that the council say will "transform" education in the area for "generations to come". A series of consultations on what education should look like in the area have been carried out in recent years.

A spokesman for the county council said: "The proposals include a new building for Berwick Academy and expansion of specialist, post-16 skills, and post-18 provision. They also include new and enhanced facilities for use by the wider community.

“As we move forward with turning these plans into reality, work is now under way on developing the appropriate staffing structures for the continuing schools. We greatly appreciate and value the life-changing difference that all our school staff in Northumberland make to our children and young people every day.

"A huge amount of work has gone into developing a staffing protocol that all schools and academies in the partnership have signed up to and which guarantees an interview to any member of staff in the middle schools who wishes to apply for the new posts and future posts that become available. Support with finding suitable alternative employment or training opportunities will also be provided.

"Staff have been consulted throughout this process with 18 meetings and drop in events taking place and which teachers’ unions were invited to attend. It is regrettable that despite doing everything in our powers, the strike is progressing.

“We meet again next Tuesday with a hope that further discussions of our re-training offer and a willingness to add clarity to a timeline for possible redundancy processes will reassure staff at risk and be enough to prevent any future planned action.”