Doubt over future of middle schools

FRESH doubt was cast over the future of Suffolk's 40 middle schools last night despite a major consultation revealing the public is split over whether they should be axed.

FRESH doubt was cast over the future of Suffolk's 40 middle schools last night despite a major consultation revealing the public is split over whether they should be axed.

The county council is due to announce on Friday a series of recommendations on what may happen to them - and one option examined is that they are abolished.

This would result in a two-tier level of schooling - primary and secondary - across Suffolk. Currently, many parts of the county have a three-tier system, which includes middle schools.

But results of a major survey by Suffolk County Council revealed 45% of people want the system changed, 71% of whom want a two-tier system - made of primary schools and senior schools - imposed across the county.

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Of those polled, 43% pressed for no change to the current system.

Despite the close results, the report concluded that the “desire for change was evident”.

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Parents, pupils and staff are now bracing themselves for Friday, when the county council will unveil a list of recommendations - partially based on its survey - at a specially convened private meeting, with a final decision being made by the full council next March.

When the EADT contacted a number of the county's middle school headteachers, most were reluctant to speak in advance of Friday's announcements.

But Julie Bidwell, head at Westley Middle School in Bury St Edmunds, did speak out and questioned what the results really meant.

She said: “It is certainly not a landslide and from what I've heard a lot of people who are satisfied with the status quo did not respond to the consultation.

“We still feel there is everything to play for. We are all in this to make sure we do the best for children and we happen to believe that is best done in a three-tier system.

“I am a parent of four children and I would like to see them all go through a three tier system.”

A spokesman for the county council, who was unable to discuss any of the recommendations set to be announced, nevertheless said there would be much in Friday's announcement that “anybody with an interest” in Suffolk's education system would “need to think over”, adding: “This is not just about two-tier or three-tier.”

The spokesman added: “The review, if it goes ahead, would be very long term. It would not happen overnight.”

Martin Goold, Suffolk secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said school workers were worried about the review, especially those in middle schools.

He added it would be “foolish” to make any changes to middle schools - or key stage three - before deciding on the future of education for 14 to 19 year olds.

Patricia O'Brien, county council cabinet member for children and young people's services, said: “It has taken the Policy Development Panel nine months of intensive work to arrive at our recommendations and not one member of the Panel has taken the responsibility lightly.

“We will be announcing those recommendations on Friday.

“Our aim has been no less than to identify how we can achieve the very best education for every child and young person in Suffolk, with a system that will stand the test of time, well into the 21st Century.

“If our recommendations are accepted by Suffolk County Council's Cabinet and approved by the full council, there will still be a great deal to do before any changes are introduced. We need to get it right and we are determined to do so.”

Of the 280,000 households which received copies of the consultation just 4,744 responded, a rate of 1.7%. The survey found that 71% who replied lived in areas with three-tier school systems.

The council's cabinet will decide on the recommendations unveiled on Friday in January 2007 before a final decision is made in March.

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