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Bury St Edmunds: Howard Middle School ‘severs ties’ with Bury Schools Partnership in school organisation review row

PUBLISHED: 21:59 06 March 2014 | UPDATED: 21:59 06 March 2014

Howard Middle School

Howard Middle School

A middle school fighting closure in Bury St Edmunds has split from the group driving the controversial move to two-tier that would have led to its demise.

Howard Middle School chair of governors Sue George made the dramatic announcement tonight that the school had severed its ties with the Bury Schools Partnership and was linking up with the Bury St Edmunds Academy Trust.

Mrs George said she felt the schools partnership’s objective was to “force a move to two-tier”, and represents the latest act of rebellion against Suffolk County Council’s school organisation review (SOR) by Howard Middle and Tollgate Primary.

Last month both schools applied to become academies sponsored by the Bury St Edmunds Academy Trust, which is headed by their closest high school, County Upper.

County councillor Sarah Stamp defended the schools partnership during tonight’s Our Place forum meeting, insisting it had a “very clear vision” for success.

But the SOR plans, and particularly Howard Middle and Tollgate Primary’s inclusion in them, came under intense scrutiny again as momentum gathers for them to be allowed to opt out of the proposed changes.

Mrs George said: “When we joined the Bury Schools Partnership we believed it was about raising the bar, no school is an island, teaching and learning.

“It wasn’t about forcing a move to two-tier, but that became blatantly very clear, so we’ve taken our decision and we’re going with the academy trust for as long as we’re allowed to.”

It is just the latest twist to the ongoing SOR saga as this week Suffolk County Council was accused of “acting outside its own constitution” after statutory notices were published announcing it had reached the next stage, despite the plans not yet having official approval.

Suffolk County Council’s cabinet made the decision to approve SOR on February 25 - the same day statutory notices were “sent to the papers” by the council for publication on February 28.

This would have paved the way for a further four-week period of consultation - beginning with the publication of statutory notices - before the council finally made the decision.

However, Labour councillors called the decision in on February 26.

As their call-in was accepted, the process was supposed to be put on hold until it was approved by the council’s scrutiny committee, which meets on Wednesday.

A council spokesman said it was too late to recall the statutory notices and they had been advised to continue, but said they would be republished and the consultation would restart if and when the decision is approved.

But a spokeswoman from campaign group Best for Bury said: “At present it looks as though Suffolk County Council is acting outside its own constitution having published notices after the decision was called in.

“Given the uncertainty around Tollgate and Howard Middle, and the potential impact of the respective outcomes on the whole linked proposal, it leaves the public and indeed decision makers with limited time to digest, consider - decipher, even - what in fact is being proposed and, more importantly, what is now possible.”

County councillor Mark Ereira-Guyer, said that the local authority looked like “it had lost control”.

He added: “The council needs to be quite honest about the fact it’s not in control, because now things have gone down their own road with the government’s new education policy.

“You have academies, you have this opt-out situation, and we have this crazy situation at Tollgate. The whole thing seems very messy.”

But Mrs Stamp said it was only a perception that the council had lost control, adding: “I think the authority is absolutely in control and it has a very clear vision of where it’s going, and the Bury Schools Partnership also have a very clear vision of where they’re going.

“The process has been smoother in Bury, it’s been vastly superior to what it was elsewhere.”

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