Anger at plans to fast-track middle school closures

NEW plans to fast-track the first stages of Lowestoft’s controversial schools shake-up have been criticised amid claims pupils and teachers were not ready for the changes to happen a year ahead of schedule.

Suffolk County Council is restructuring the county’s education system, moving it from three to two tiers, and Lowestoft’s middle schools will be among the first to be closed in September 2011.

However the council informed staff at Elm Tree and Kirkley Middle Schools this week that their year seven and year eight pupils were now going to be moved up to Kirkley High School this September – a year earlier than planned.

From September, there will be no sixth form at Kirkley High School, and this means there will be space for half the children from the two feeder middle schools to be taught on the site, although they will still officially be registered with their middle schools.

Meanwhile, the responsibility for teaching year five and six children from Elm Tree and Kirkley Middle Schools will pass down to Fen Park and Elm Tree Primary Schools, but those youngsters may still be taught in the existing middle school buildings.

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One middle school teacher, who asked not to be named, said that she and her fellow staff were in shock when they were told at a meeting on Wednesday that they would be working at the high school from the start of the autumn term.

She said: “I think it’s absolutely appalling, particularly as there hasn’t been any consultation with staff or parents. It’s left everybody feeling very, very angry.

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“Effectively the middle school will cease to exist in all but name from September. The children who are due to be going into year seven are not prepared to go up to high school, so it isn’t fair on them. It’s a huge school with hundreds of pupils so it’ll be very daunting for them.”

She added: “Teachers and parents have already been put through the mill with these school reorganisation plans, but to then be told this news so late in the year is a real shock.”

Simon White, Suffolk County Council’s director for children and young people, said that the decision to make some changes a year earlier than planned came from a recent government review of National Challenge Schools, including Kirkley High.

He said: “One of the main drivers has been the review, which recommended that we look at the feeder schools which come into Kirkley High and find a way to build educational support between the schools, which is why we are moving the pupils on to the high school site this year rather than waiting another year.”

He added: “This is quite a creative way to get us through this time of transition. The changes will allow us to use the existing primary and middle school buildings flexibly this year.”

Mr White said that having only half the pupils in the existing middle schools would also allow some adaptation and building work to start ahead of schedule in order to turn the buildings into new, bigger primary schools.

These will eventually take all children from year one to year six from September 2011, when the changes to two-tier education are rolled out across the town.

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