'A massive loss to the community' - Families react to proposed school closures

Left, Melissa Claydon with her three children and right, Sarah Dean, a former middle school teacher and parent

Left, Melissa Claydon with her three children and right, Sarah Dean, a former middle school teacher and parent of a pupil at Westley Middle School - Credit: Melissa Claydon/Contributed

Parents have said it would be a "real shame" if the last two middle schools in Suffolk are closed.

Unity Schools Partnership is proposing to shut Westley Middle School and Horringer Court Middle School in Bury St Edmunds in August 2023 because of dwindling pupil numbers.

If approved, the plans would see Tollgate Primary School and County Upper School, also in the town, extend their age ranges to join the two-tier model of education.

There are proposals for Horringer Court Middle School (left) and Westley Middle School (right) to close next year

There are proposals for Horringer Court Middle School (left) and Westley Middle School (right) to close next year - Credit: Google

Formerly part of the Bury St Edmunds All-Through Trust, Westley and Horringer Court avoided closing in 2016 when other middle schools in the town shut as part of the School Organisation Review.

Reacting to the news of the proposed closures on social media, parents said they were "devastated" and "very sad".

Barbara Pooley, 55, who has a granddaughter at Westley Middle School, said it would be "such a pity" to close "excellent" middle schools - which cater for ages nine to 13.

If the plans go through, her granddaughter will have to find a new school for September 2023.

She said: "When she found out, my granddaughter burst into tears and had a complete meltdown. She's 10 and will be 11 in June.

"She had sort of grown out of Tollgate [primary]. Since she's been at Westley, she's just flourished."

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She added: "We live just round the corner from Westley and she is able to walk here after school."

Families have raised concerns over the distance children will have to travel to school if Westley and Horringer Court go.

Mrs Pooley added: "Both middle schools mean so much to each individual community. They are used by the community and it means children are closer to home to go to school."

Some families have also said they prefer the middle school route due to the specialist provision children receive, such as in languages, as well as having an extra stage before secondary school.

"I think at 11 they are still too young to be mixing with older children; issues around bullying and even county lines," Mrs Pooley said.

'It's not in the best interests of the children'

Former middle school teacher Sarah Dean, 42, a mum-of-five boys, said three of her children have been through Westley and she had hoped her two at primary school would move up to the middle.

An advocate of the middle school model, Mrs Dean taught at Horringer Court Middle from 2010 to 2017 and said they put so much work in at the time to keep the schools open.

Sarah Dean used to work at Horringer Court Middle School and three of her sons went through Westley Middle School

Sarah Dean used to work at Horringer Court Middle School and three of her sons went through Westley Middle School - Credit: Contributed

She said she felt "surprise" and "panic" on hearing the announcement, and added: "Parents cannot let this happen."

"It is worrying," she said. "I just cannot help but feel it's not in the best interests of the children."

"It would be a massive loss to the community and also the children," she said. "It's that stage you need to start teaching them independence. They need to pack their own bag and make their own way to school.

"It's quite close and you know it's very safe."

Sarah Dean's children Harvey and Harry, whom she had hoped would move up to Westley Middle School

Sarah Dean's children Harvey and Harry, whom she had hoped would move up to Westley Middle School - Credit: Sarah Dean

She described Westley as "excellent" with an understanding headteacher, fantastic parental support and "excellent" teaching.

She also shares the view that the trust should look at consolidating onto one site, rather than closing both schools.

She added: "It seems so quick as well. How can they close them next year?"

Sarah Dean's children Aiden and Flynn (back left to right) and Harvey and Harry (front left to right)

Sarah Dean's children Aiden and Flynn (back left to right) and Harvey and Harry (front left to right) - Credit: Sarah Dean

'It's a real shame'

Trudi Revere said: "I just think it’s a real shame. My son Adam attended Westley Middle School from 2016 to 2020 and loved it.

"He made some very good friends and educationally progressed really well. He loved Hilltop which he went to in year 6 and would’ve gone to France in year 8 had the pandemic not occurred."

Adam in his uniform on his first day at Westley Middle School

Adam in his uniform on his first day at Westley Middle School - Credit: Trudi Revere

Melissa Claydon, a mum-of-three, said: "I’m quite sad about the proposed closing of Westley and Horringer Court Middle School. 

"The closure won’t adversely affect me as my children are now at County but I felt that Westley Middle and the fantastic staff there provided a much-needed alternative to the giant leap from primary to high school which is needed for some children, mine included.

"Not all children can cope with the expectations of high school so quickly and don’t adapt quite so quickly, so having the three-tier system worked well for us and many other families that we became acquainted with.”

Melissa Claydon, with her three children, said not all children could cope with the expectations of high school so quickly 

Melissa Claydon said not all children could cope with the expectations of high school so quickly. She is pictured with her three children - Credit: Melissa Claydon

'We believe it's time for primary and secondary model'

Speaking this week, Tim Coulson, chief executive of Unity Schools Partnership, said: "We understand and acknowledge that the middle school structure and three-tier system has been enjoyed and has benefitted students for a number of years.

“But the number of families choosing middle schools is diminishing - which has a knock-on effect on the type of education we can offer to students in the future."

"We believe it is the right time to convert these group of schools into a primary and secondary model and harmonise admissions at age 11 across the town and across Suffolk.

“We want to encourage our local community to share their views over the plans, whether through the various public meetings that are planned or via our consultation website.”

Tim Coulson, chief executive of Unity Schools Partnership. Picture: UNITY SCHOOLS PARTNERSHIP

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

To take part in the consultation, see here.

Three public meetings have been organised: at Westley Middle School on Thursday, January 27, at 7pm, at Horringer Court Middle School on Monday, January 31, at 7pm, and at County Upper School on Wednesday, February 2, at 7pm.

To book visit the eventbrite website. 


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