Bury St Edmunds: Local views ignored as school reorganisation goes ahead – claim
The needs of students and parents at one of the most seriously-affected schools in Bury St Edmunds were ignored when the county council went ahead with the latest stage of its education reform, councillors have heard.
Members of Suffolk County Council’s scrutiny committee decided against referring the latest phase of the Schools’ Organisation Review (SOR) process back to the authority’s cabinet following last month’s decision to go ahead.
But the decision was only made on the casting vote of committee chair Jane Storey after impassioned pleas to reconsider the decision.
The review will see the current three-tier school system in Bury St Edmunds replaced with a two-tier system by September 2016
Before the debate started Sue George, chair of governors of the Howard Middle School which would cease to exist if the proposals are approved, said the vast majority of parents with children at the school were opposed to the changes.
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The school serves large housing estates, and instead of going to the nearby County Upper School they faced a long trek to a new school at Moreton Hall.
Parents were not happy with this, and felt their concerns had been ignored by those planning the changes.
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She was backed up by fellow governor Helen Stacey, who said: “County Upper is just across the road and is in easy walk for the children in this part of the town. If this goes ahead, they will be bussed three miles to Moreton Hall.”
The scrutiny committee looked at whether cabinet had enough information to make the decision to go ahead with the SOR when it met on February 25.
On that day it approved the publication of statutory notices proposing changes in the Bury St Edmunds area – and to recommended that the government develop a new high school at Moreton Hall.
There is now a further period of consultation before the final orders are put into action. The proposal is that the changes would start in September next year and would be completed by September 2016.
The call-in was led by Labour education spokeswoman Sonia Barker, who said when the issue had been discussed at cabinet not enough weight was given to the concerns of those who would be most directly affected by the decision – the parents and governors linked to the schools that would be shaken up in the review.
She said: “Suffolk County Council’s cabinet should reconsider its decision on the Bury St Edmunds’ SOR until there is sound weighted evidence.”
Her Labour colleague Sandra Gage said the most important people to consider were the students currently at the affected schools.
However cabinet member with responsibilty for education Lisa Chambers said it was vital to include parents of younger children in the debate – because their education would be determined by the decisions made.
The committee voted along party lines when it came to the vote – six Conservatives voted to allow the decision to stand and the six opposition councillors voted for it to be reconsidered.
Chair Jane Storey – the former Conservative deputy leader on the authority – used her casting vote to allow the decision to stand.
Ms Barker said: “The decision taken by the SCC scrutiny committee in response to the call in is symptomatic of the approach taken by this council. Conservative members of the committee were only voting on party lines, not on the evidence presented”.
Mrs Chambers said: “Today’s meeting was an opportunity for us to demonstrate, again, the extremely thorough way in which we have consulted on, and gone about, the process of school reorganisation in Bury St Edmunds.
“This confirms that we have taken all the appropriate actions to ensure a coherent set of proposals are put forward for public consultation.”