Closure of Colchester schools moves ahead

THE next stage of a consultation process into divisive plans to close three struggling Colchester secondary schools will begin shortly.

Elliot Furniss

THE next stage of a consultation process into divisive plans to close three struggling Colchester secondary schools will begin shortly.

Yesterday, Essex County Council's cabinet agreed to push ahead with the proposals to shut The Thomas Lord Audley (TLA), Alderman Blaxill and Sir Charles Lucas Schools and replace them with an academy and a “state of the art” vocational centre.

However, parents and politicians in the town have argued fiercely in favour of an alternative “community option” that would see TLA and Alderman Blaxill form a permanent federation with the Stanway School, a continuation of the current, temporary arrangement.

During the meeting, Lord Hanningfield also pledged to involve local primary schools more in the next stage of the discussions, which will begin on February 6.

He told the meeting he would be talking with their head teachers about the matter this week and responded to calls from Colchester representative Richard Bourne to closely track underperforming students' progress once the new set up is in place.

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After the meeting, Lord Hanningfield said he firmly believed that the proposals would deliver the “world class” education that all of Colchester's children deserved, and which so many were sadly not getting.

He said: “I am pleased that cabinet has approved the proposals and I look forward to engaging with Colchester residents once again during the next phase of consultation.

“We will also continue our dialogue with the Government, including the Ministry of Defence, regarding their potential involvement in the proposed vocational establishment in south Colchester.

“The first round of consultation proved extremely valuable and played a direct role in the development of the scheme that is now on the table.”

He said it was important for residents to understand that no decisions had yet been taken and their voices could still make a difference to the final project.

The approved proposals will see TLA and Alderman Blaxill close in August 2014 with pupils allocated to alternative schools in the surrounding area which will be expanded to cope with the extra numbers.

The Sir Charles Lucas site, on the Greenstead Estate, will close on August 31 and open the next day as an academy.

The vocational centre, which was not originally contained in Lord Hanningfield's preferred option, would be organised in partnership with local schools with governance provided through a trust arrangement and managed by Colchester Institute.

Last night town MP Bob Russell said the plans were “bonkers” and pledged that the campaign to save the schools from closure was “far from over”.

He said: “Quite simply, the proposals from Essex County Council are bonkers and do not have the support of a single one of the borough council's 60 councillors.”

But fellow MP Bernard Jenkin, who represents the North Essex constituency, said it was an “excellent compromise” and he was in full support of the vocational centre, which would be based in the Monkwick area.

The next phase of consultation will run until March 13 and will include a public meeting at Charter Hall in Colchester on March 5.