Bury St Edmunds: Parents attend meeting over plans for school organisation review

Suffolk County Council's Phil Whiffing at a previous meeting into the SOR plans for Bury St

Suffolk. Suffolk County Council's Phil Whiffing at a previous meeting into the SOR plans for Bury St Edmunds - Credit: Andy Abbott

Parents last night voiced their concerns over plans to change the education structure in Bury St Edmunds, which would include the closure of three middle schools.

The first open event was held as part of the Suffolk County Council consultation into moving from a three-tier to a two-tier school system in the Bury area.

If approved, St James, Hardwick and Howard Middle schools would close in 2016 and there would be a new academy high school at Moreton Hall.

The proposals would also mean 13 primary schools would need to expand their age ranges to take year five and six classes and King Edward VI School would welcome year seven and eight students.

The schools in the Bury St Edmunds Academy Trust – County Upper, Westley Middle, Horringer Court Middle and Barrow Primary – are not included in the proposals.

The first open event during the consultation, which runs until December 13, was held at St James CEVA Middle where headteacher Paul Elstone and Phil Whiffing, from Suffolk County Council, gave presentations before people split into discussion groups.

In one group, issues raised about the changes included concern that it was not a proper consultation, disappointment at the lack of options and worries over school catchment areas. People also felt that children currently in year four would be most badly affected as they would be moving to middle schools that were due to close.

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Jas Lally said to Mr Whiffing: “Firstly, what seems to be coming across is that the consultation is not a consultation – it’s a tick box exercise to meet statutory requirements.”

Mr Whiffing said the county council had a preference for a two-tier structure so it would take a strong argument to change this, but comments on individual school proposals could alter the final plan.

Dr Viv Hughes, a governor at Barrow Primary, expressed her disappointment an all-through model – like the Bury Academy Trust – was not included as an option.

During his presentation, Mr Whiffing said: “So we are going to end up in Bury with a more complex position than we have elsewhere (with the academy trust and two tier) that has some disadvantages, but it also has the advantage of giving people real choice.”

He said there was huge evidence which showed when children changed school it slowed down their progress.

A separate consultation is taking place on the Catholic schools in Bury changing to a two-tier structure.