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Weeks old, but facing closure

Ministers back the use of cross-sector contracts, despite rising concern from critics. Martin Farrell reports

Throckley middle school opened just weeks ago after a pound;4 million building programme. It was among the first in Newcastle-upon-Tyne to be redeveloped as part of a pound;100m private finance initiative programme in the city.

But now education officials want to close Throckley as part of a shake-up in west Newcastle which will replace the existing three-tier system with two tiers.

Three middle schools will go, subject to a decision by the schools organisation committee. A fourth closure has been approved.

Under the conditions of the 25-year PFI deal, the middle school building must be used for education or Newcastle City Council could be landed with a huge fine. FocusEducation, a consortium made up of Bovis Land Lease and the Royal Bank of Scotland, has designed and built six new schools in the city and are running services.

A council spokeswoman said it wanted to stop the building work at Throckley when it realised it was not needed. "Officers strongly advised the school to delay the PFI project until the outcome of the school organisation committee, but governors went ahead."

But Ricky Williams, the headteacher, said: "I only became head 12 months ago. I knew the LEA was investigating a two-tier system but I had no idea they would want to close a brand new school."

The council insist the building will continue to be used if Throckley middle closes, saying it may become a new primary school. But critics claim the building is unsuitable for primary education and cannot be converted without considerable extra cost to the council.

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