'We would welcome it' - idea to move upper school onto middle school site

Unity Schools Partnership was quizzed on its plans to close Westley Middle School and Horringer Court Middle School

Unity Schools Partnership was quizzed on its plans to close Westley Middle School and Horringer Court Middle School in Bury St Edmunds - Credit: Mariam Ghaemi

A proposal to build a new County Upper School on the site of a threatened middle school has been floated at a public meeting.

Last night, about 100 people gathered at Westley Middle School in Bury St Edmunds for the first public meeting to discuss plans by Unity Schools Partnership to close Westley and Horringer Court Middle School in August 2023.

These two schools are part of an 'all-through' approach with Tollgate Primary School and County Upper School, all in Bury St Edmunds, but Unity says not enough pupils are coming through to maintain the system.

Parents have spoken of their sadness and heartbreak at the prospect of losing the middle schools, which are both rated 'good' by Ofsted. 

Councillor Robert Everitt

Councillor Robert Everitt - Credit: Archant

Suffolk County Councillor Robert Everitt, who is a district councillor for the Minden ward, and Clive Springett, also a Minden district councillor, have come up with the idea of County Upper moving onto the Westley site.

At the meeting, Mr Everitt said: "Rather than either closing Westley Middle School or turn the site into a split site [campus of County Upper], which I know from personal experience doesn't work...we build a new County Upper School on the Westley Middle School site.

"This would reduce traffic on Beetons Way/Western Way, but more importantly keep a school on the western side of Bury."

Tim Coulson, chief executive of Unity Schools Partnership

Tim Coulson, chief executive of Unity Schools Partnership - Credit: Mariam Ghaemi

Tim Coulson, chief executive of Unity Schools Partnership, said: "If that could be pulled off, we would really welcome it."

Funding could be a sticking point, but Mr Everitt said: "If you don't try, you don't get."

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He added the details and configurations for the proposal would need to come from the professionals.

As part of the consultation, this proposal will be considered by Unity, along with others including County Upper operating on two sites, with Years 7 and 8 on Westley.

Under current plans, Years 7 and 8 would just use the Westley site as a "temporary solution", Mr Coulson said.

At the meeting parents spoke of their upset over possibly losing the middle schools, with mum Christine Oliver saying: "I'm pretty heartbroken this is happening, really."

The pupil numbers that Unity are using as a basis for their closure plans were also questioned at the meeting.

But Mr Coulson maintains the numbers coming into the middle schools are not enough to sustain an upper school moving forward.

In total, middle school numbers have fallen from 210 to 137 in the last four years.

However, Westley has maintained higher numbers than Horringer Court, with 99 applications for September 22 compared to 38 respectively. 

Pete Mumford, schools planning manager with Suffolk County Council, said there would be enough school places in the town if the schools closed.

Ben Jeffery, headteacher at Westley Middle School

Ben Jeffery, headteacher at Westley Middle School - Credit: Mariam Ghaemi

Ben Jeffery, headteacher at Westley Middle School, thanked people for their support, saying: "It means a lot."

He said while he could understand where Unity was coming from, "I don't want them to shut our school".

The consultation ends on February 17 when the Department for Education will consider the proposals along with the views expressed.

The next public meeting is being held on January 31 at Horringer Court Middle School, followed by County Upper School on February  2.