RURAL communities will be ripped apart if the axe falls on first and primary schools in the district.

That's the fear of Falstone parent Tom Chadwin, who has a child in Year 4 at Greenhaugh First School, which is under threat of closure in all three of the proposed models.

"It's already had an adverse effect," said Mr Chadwin, "because people start thinking Greenhaugh school is closing.

"The school is the hub of the community. It is a good school, and is very much an educational success, yet we find oursleves in this position.

"If the school closes it will have a 25-year legacy on the whole community. It will have a de-populating effect."

Mr Chadwin said teachers, governors and parents need more time to fight the proposals.

"The county council has had several months to come up with these plans, with input from professional officers and educationalists.

"Now they are asking us amateurs, and they have given us just a few weeks. The April 9 deadline needs to be challenged."

Eric Taylor, whose daughter attends Haltwhistle Middle School, said: "People will not move to areas where there are no schools. We don't want communities breaking down."