Middle schools across Northumberland county are facing closure as part of a £340m rescue package for the county's education system, The Journal can reveal today.
Children and Parents protest at Norham in Northumberland.
The schools will close as the county moves away from its traditional three-tier education system to the two-tier system found in most other parts of England - but some sites in the more rural parts of the county will be saved as satellites for larger secondary schools.
A number of village first schools will also close, though it is hoped that many can be saved by organising them into "head federations" with one headteacher looking after five or six schools so that they will no longer have to combine management with full-time teaching. The range of options for schools' futures is due to be revealed to parents today.
Education bosses hope that the large scale reorganisation will attract £250m in funding from the Government which, along with the county council's own money and cash from the sell-off of redundant sites, will lead to 20 new primary schools and 15 secondary schools being created.
The shake-up will rid the county of around 3,000 surplus places, as well as reducing the number of school sites by between 30 and 40. It should also clear the backlog of repairs that has built up during years of poor budget settlements from the Government.
Director of education Brian Edwards said yesterday: "It's not us telling people what we're going to do. It's local people saying what they think is best. The given direction of travel is the transfer of schools at age 11 but there are a number of ways we can achieve that. I think it's really quite exciting if we can pull this off. Change is difficult but we're giving people the options so they can tell us what they think."
Mr Edwards said that schools would be reorganised to take account of local needs, and though all children would transfer at age 11, some would go to junior high schools close to home before going on to senior high schools.
Letters outlining the options for each area - drawn up by each of the county's 14 school pyramids - are due to reach parents this morning.
The plans will then go out for consultation for three months, with a county plan being drawn up in May and a final decision being made around September.
Council education bosses hope that the new arrangements can begin in September 2006. The county has applied for £250m funding from the Government's Building Schools for the Future programme and will hear in April whether it has been successful. Vin Wynne, Northumberland secretary of the teaching union NUT, said last night: "There shouldn't be any teaching job losses because the number of children remains the same."
The Journal: Today's Voice of the North
Page 2: Alternatives offered in reorganisation