These days the lovely little school at Whitfield is a primary school academy, managed by The Good Shepherd Multi-Academy Trust. According to the school’s website, it was the first in Northumberland to be taken under this trust’s wing. I dropped by the other day to take a photo or two (with kind permission) but at the same time I scrupulously avoided catching any of the young bicycle riders who were practising on the road.
The Whitfield school has gone through such a lot of transitions, over the past decade or so. Sarah Blackett-Ord has kindly sent in a little bit of history which sets this entry up nicely: “While you’re visiting the West Allen Valley . . . you might be interested in the little Primary School. It’s completely carbon neutral with photovoltaic panels, heat pump and windmill. My husband has just donated some woodland next to it for Forest Studies too. Founded in 1785 by his ancestor William Ord, it took in girls as well as boys – sadly not usual in those days. It’s now part of an academy trust called The Good Shepherd and is doing very well.”
I do remember when the green energy components were installed at the school, and before that the lovely playground equipment, with grant funding from a variety of sources including the EU’s LEADER programme which has financed so many facilities in these valleys, over the years. And then, after all of these renovations, it was such a shock several years ago to read in the Hexham Courant that the school had been put under ‘special measures’ by Ofsted, and was even threatened with closure. But the new management team has apparently turned things around.
I wasn’t aware, until I read about it on the school’s comprehensive website, that “In 2017 we built an extension that is insulated with sheep’s wool and beautifully clad with wood. This has enabled us to open our Early Years Unit (Little Lapwings) which provides a strong educational foundation for children from Nursery to Year One. It’s a warm and homely space where our youngest children learn to feel safe as they experience the foundation years of their school lives.” Sounds lovely to me!
Becoming a primary school, of course, as Allendale Middle School did, has been part of the gradual, but persistent strategy of Northumberland County Council to configure its school system into a two, rather than a three tier model, thereby matching most of the rest of the counties in the country. I must say, our children did so well in the three tier model, working their way through the local schools, but the good reports coming out of the new primaries seem to indicate that the new strategy is also paying dividends. It was, however, a challenging battle for parents caught up in this controversy, about five years ago. As with most such circumstances around this patch, I guess, people aren’t shy about voicing their particular passions, but the remarkable thing is what happens as the dust settles.
People accommodate to the new status quo, and get on with their lives, I’ve found. I think that the Allendale community (by which I mean to encompass the whole patch of the East and West River Allen Valleys) is especially resilient; having fought the good fight, folks get on with living the good life. That’s always struck me as a remarkably mature socialisation strategy, and I don’t quite know why this patch is so blessed in that capacity. But I do know that I’ve appreciated that sense of looking to the future while making the best of the present, after a debacle which can be laid to rest in the past.
And so life goes on at Whitfield Primary, a little school with a proud history, a cheerful present, and an exciting future.