Durham County Council's cabinet agree to consult of closure of Shildon's Sunnydale School

By James Robinson

Durham County Council's cabinet have agreed to consult on the permanent closure of a troubled school that has suffered from years of decline.

Sunnydale School in Shildon was being run in a shared-site arrangement with Greenfield Community College in nearby Newton Aycliffe.

However, since January 2020 the Sunnydale site has been temporarily closed and all pupils have been educated at the Aycliffe site.

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On Wednesday, council officers presented cabinet with a report that recommended the school close its doors for good, while £20 million would be invested in Greenfield's site to improve educational outcomes for pupils.

Councillors were told that a number of options were considered, including continued site sharing - but that the closure was the favoured option, as the shared site arrangement had been identified as one of the reasons behind the lack of improvement in terms of education at both sites.

However, Shildon Town Council are against the proposals and are campaigning for a new school to be built in the town - Cllr Fred Langley of the town council spoke at the meeting and urged councillors to reject the plan.

He said: "I would like to invoke the levelling up concept on a smaller county scale. Shildon is an important historic town made famous by its railway history.

"When compared to neighbouring towns it has suffered from a lack of recent development. Currently with a population of about 10,000, it doesn't have a bank, a full supermarket, an adequate police presence resulting in excessive juvenile anti-social behaviour, has only one post office, has a leisure centre which does not meet the modern needs and as such is not fully utilised.

"It doesn't have a youth centre - but what it does have is three excellent primary schools which all feed into new, fully equipped secondary schools.

"if you agree to the tabled document, this town will have the additional handicap of not having a secondary school, which will result in Shildon becoming a less attractive place in which to reside."

Councillors also faced a total of nine questions from fellow members, all of which called for a halt on the plans to close the school.

But Cllr Ted Henderson, the council's cabinet member for children and young people's services, said: "The cost of sustaining the current setup at Greenfield is not sustainable. Money is being wasted on temporary arrangements.

"A long term solution is required. The recommended option will give us the chance to provide an amazing learning environment for the young people and we would like to make that happen as soon as possible for as many children as we can."

(Durham County Council)

The council's deputy leader, Richard Bell, added: "We need to do something to help improve educational outcomes and deliver a financially sustainable future.

"The current pattern of parental preferences and future pupil planning projections clearly demonstrate that maintaining a secondary school in Shildon is neither in the best educational interests of the children, nor is it financially viable."

Councillors unanimously agreed the recommendations of the report, meaning residents and stakeholders will now be consulted on the closure of Sunnydale in the near future.

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