'It needs to be given a chance' - Campaigners march in protest of South Shields School closure
A group of campaigners took their fight to save South Shields School to the streets when they held a march and rally to raise awareness of the school's plight.
South Shields Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck was among the speakers at the event, which saw around two dozen people walk from the William Wouldhave Memorial Lifeboat on the town's Ocean Road to St Hilda's Church.
Organised by save South Shields School campaigners, representatives from the Green Party and Labour Party joined forces with parents and pupils alike in protest of potential plans to close the school.
The event follows a decision by South Tyneside Council cabinet members who agreed that a six-week consultation - running until November 2 - would be held for pupils, parents, staff and others to prove why it should stay open.
The school, which recently recorded its best-ever GCSE results, has had an "inadequate" Ofsted report looming over it since inspectors’ last visit in October 2017.
By law, South Tyneside Council cannot maintain a school rated "inadequate".
An online petition to save the school, which has an intake of around 550 pupils on its roll, has already received thousands of signatures.
Mrs Lewell-Buck said: "I have had hundreds of parents, pupils and staff at South Shields School contact me to say they are really concerned about the impending closure of their school.
"It cannot be right and it should not be the only option that closure is being looked at when you have a school that has got its best GCSE results that it has ever had and that Ofsted have said are moving in the right direction."
The current school building was opened in 2011 at a cost of Â£21million and with space for up to 1,000 pupils.
It was funded by the government’s Building Schools for the Future programme, a Private Finance Initiative which committed Â£112m to upgrading schools in the borough.
It is believed that the terms of this mean the school building must be used for educational purposes for the life of the deal.
David Francis, coordinator for South Tyneside Green Party, said: "Education is under attack from government cuts, which means that in some schools they are having to slash support staff, teaching assistants and other support staff from which vulnerable children learn the most.
"And now for children's education is under attack from school closures like this one here.
"What I have been telling people here today is that in other areas in the North East, when schools are threatened with closure like this and councils plan to close schools, in the consultation, councils have listened to the people, they have listened to what the parents and the communities have had to say and they have changed their plans.
"People have fought back and people have won."
Parent Leanne Habbershaw, 35, from Biddick Hall, has a 13-year-old son in Year 9 at the school. If the school was to close, she thinks his GCSEs would be affected.
She continued: "This is going to affect my son's GCSEs as he is going to have his options for next year.
"Boldon have already picked their options which is the closest school to ourselves.Mortimer is far too far away for him to travel as he rides his bike, so therefore that is not viable.
"There is safeguarding issues to get to Boldon as well as there is only a scholars' bus that goes there, there is also the field that he would have to cross on his bike."
A report to members of the cabinet highlighted falling pupil numbers at the school and predicted the decline would continue further.
By 2020/21 it is predicted the school will have almost half of its 850 capacity unfilled.
The catchment areas for South Shields School, Boldon School and Mortimer Community College significantly overlap and some families have been opting to send their children to these two schools - which have significant surplus places.
A continued decline of student numbers would impact on the school budget if action is not taken, according to council chiefs
Megan Roeves, 16, was a former pupil at the school, who just completed her GCSEs this summer.
On hearing the news that it may close while studying at school, she said: "It was just awful. It was so uncertain, no one knew what was happening.
"It could have affected anyone's GCSEs."
Angela Hamilton, Labour councillor for Beacon and Bents ward also attended the protest and told the Gazette that the school needs to be given a chance.
She continued: "It hasn't been there long enough, it is improving, the new headteacher is doing a lot of work and I just think it needs to be given a chance."
She added: "I think the impact of a potential closure would be on every single child in South Shields as those children have to go somewhere."
The councillor also said she has been approached by people in her ward who are concerned about the impact the closure could have on other schools across the borough.
Information about the issues and about how to get involved in the consultation is available on the council website here.
Those affected by this issue can also call a dedicated phone number - 0191 424 7847 or send an email via [email protected]