Tyne & Wear

Northumberland school closures plan dropped after outcry

Hundreds of parents protest the council's initial plan
Image caption Hundreds of parents took part in a protest march to oppose the closure proposals

Plans to close or merge a number of first and middle schools in Northumberland have been dropped by the county council.

The future of 16 schools had been under discussion after the authority said the current system was "not viable".

Hundreds of parents staged protests and warned the changes would "rip the heart out" of small communities.

The council said it had "responded to community feedback", although one school could still close.

First and middle schools in the Hexham, Haltwhistle and Haydon Bridge areas were all set to be affected.

The seven-week consultation was triggered by questions over the future of Haydon Bridge High School after the Bright Tribe organisation withdrew its proposed academy sponsorship in November amid concerns over falling pupil numbers.

More than 3,000 responses were submitted.

'Vital' conversation

The council's cabinet is now being recommended to take back control of Haydon Bridge High School and create a federation of small rural schools.

Several first schools are set to be allowed to change the age range of their pupils.

However, a proposal in which Bellingham First School would become a primary would also see Bellingham Middle School close in September 2019.

Wayne Daley, cabinet member for children's services at the Conservative-led authority, said: "We know how important schools are to local communities and it was vital we had this conversation and considered all available options."

The new proposals will go before the cabinet for approval on 8 May.

A four-week statutory consultation would then begin with the cabinet making a final decision in July.

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