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Bury St Edmunds: Mixed reaction to decision to axe middle schools in town

09:13 12 June 2014

Best for Bury schools petiton handover at West Suffolk House. Left to right, Trevor Bluett, Kate McDonald, Ernie Broom, Bernadine Miller and Suzan Bluett.

Best for Bury schools petiton handover at West Suffolk House. Left to right, Trevor Bluett, Kate McDonald, Ernie Broom, Bernadine Miller and Suzan Bluett.

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While many schools have welcomed the decision to change to a two-tier structure of education in the Bury St Edmunds area, others have expressed concerns over the impact of the move in the north and west parts of the town.

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On Tuesday Suffolk County Council’s cabinet confirmed the closure of four middle schools in the town – Howard, Hardwick, St James CEVA and St Louis Middle Schools – and extending the age ranges of most of the other schools. There will also be a new high school at Moreton Hall.

As the Bury St Edmunds Academy Trust schools – County Upper, Barrow CEVC Primary, Horringer Court Middle and Westley Middle – are outside of these plans, this structure will operate in the town alongside two tier.

Sue Herriott, chair of the Bury Schools Partnership which has supported the move to two tier, said many parents and teachers would be “relieved” the decision had finally been made.

“When we established this ground-breaking partnership of schools we said that we would focus on raising standards, increasing opportunities for children, and developing teaching quality – irrespective of what happened with two or three tier.

“This means that we are very well placed to work closely to ensure that during the coming two years, and in the future, children will have a really happy and successful time at our schools.”

The Bury Schools Partnership is made up of 18 schools in and around the town.

Ernie Broom, chairman of the Howard Estate Association of Residents and Tenants (HEART), said he was “very, very disappointed” with the decision. “It’s a very sad day for democracy because we were told at the very beginning of this consultation exercise they would listen to what the people wanted.”

There has been considerable opposition to the county council’s plans from those living on the Howard and Mildenhall Road estates, who said the changes will make it less straight forward for young people there to access education at their local upper school, County Upper School.

Councillor David Nettleton, who represents this area on the county council, said it was “important” for talks to continue with the academy trust to try and get a resolution for those in north and west parts of Bury.

Richard Fletcher, chairman of the academy trust board, said: “The local authority’s plans leave parents on the western side of Bury, not just those on the Howard estate, with no clear route to the trust schools they wish to use.

“However, the trust will work hard to explain to parents how their children can access the all-through schooling we provide and will plan to ensure that as many as possible can enjoy this from age four to 19.

“We remain open to working with the local authority and other schools in Bury St Edmunds to give true choice and diversity of provision.”

He said the cabinet decision created “a number of significant problems”, including excess school places.

Mr Nettleton also said the cabinet meeting had been conducted in a “chaotic way,” describing how this item on the agenda had to be deferred until after lunch because cabinet members had only been given the draft report.

The Best for Bury group, which has been campaigning for an 
“all-through system” across the town, said they wanted to review what had been decided due to the way the meeting had been conducted.

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