Bury St Edmunds: Suffolk County Council formally approves changes made in school organisation review

Lisa Chambers, cabinet member for education, skills and young people, welcomes the report by Ofsted in council failings of school improvements Lisa Chambers, cabinet member for education, skills and young people, welcomes the report by Ofsted in council failings of school improvements

Tuesday, February 25, 2014
6:29 PM

Plans to overhaul the schooling system in Bury St Edmunds passed another hurdle yesterday - but there may be a reprieve for schools on two estates hoping to break away.

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Suffolk County Council’s cabinet approved the recommendations in its school organisational review (SOR) to move the majority of schools in the town to a two-tier system.

However, last-minute calls from Tollgate Primary and Howard Middle to break away from the plans and join the Bury St Edmunds Academy Trust - headed by their nearest high school, County Upper - may go ahead after appeals from governors and local councillor David Nettleton.

Mr Nettleton, who attended all the consultation events in the town, told yesterday’s meeting that while the majority of schools wanted the move, there was clear opposition from Tollgate Primary and Howard Middle, with parents concerned their children would not get places at Westley Middle, which is in the academy trust, and progress through to County Upper.

He added: “It’s a logistic problem in terms of geography within the town. That is the issue.

“I would hope that if this goes ahead, you would give consideration to exempting the Howard and Tollgate schools. I don’t accept that this will damage the whole structure of the move to two tier.”

Having adopted the recommendations yesterday, there is now a further four-week consultation where each school will publish statutory notices.

Both Tollgate Primary and Howard Middle have applied to the Department for Education to become academies within the Bury St Edmunds Academy Trust, which operates an all-through three-tier system

Tollgate Primary, which has been in special measures since 2012, has even had its application signed off by the schools minister Lord Nash.

However, Suffolk County Council last week abolished Tollgate’s board of governors and replaced them with an interim executive board - plans that had been in the pipeline since January.

Responding to Mr Nettleton, Lisa Chambers, the council’s cabinet member for education, said: “I absolutely understand what you’re saying in terms of a clear route for families for County Upper. We have the four-week consultation period.

“I really want to reiterate my commitment to continuing discussions with County Upper and the academy trust to resolve this and make sure it is straight forward for all families in the Bury area.

“I also think the views of future parents should be taken into account, where there is support for the two-tier structure from Howard Primary.”

Sue George, chair of governors at Howard Middle, said the school felt bullied into accepting the two-tier proposals, and that the governing body had “played absolutely no part” in the consultation.

However, Mrs Chambers called these comments “disappointing, adding: “The officers have spent a huge amount of time working with the Bury Schools Partnership and they are quite clear this is the approach they want to take.”

Speaking after the meeting, Dr Richard Fletcher, chairman of governors at County Upper, said it was “no surprise” SOR was adopted.

He added: “If the council wants to get serious in the next four weeks then we want to work with them. We’ve got four more weeks to make submissions and respond, and we’ll still do all we can.”

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