'Don't rock the boat' - schools petition calls for stability for students

Westley Middle School

Westley Middle School - Credit: Archant

A petition has been launched calling for more time before a decision is made on the future of two threatened middle schools.

Westley Middle School and Horringer Court Middle School in Bury St Edmunds - the last two middle schools in Suffolk - have been put forward for closure in August 2023 due to dwindling pupil numbers.

As part of consultation by Unity Schools Partnership, parents have expressed their dismay over the plans and alternative proposals have been floated, including moving County Upper School onto the Westley site.

Councillor Diane Hind believes more should be done to attract pupils to the middle schools to increase numbers

Councillor Diane Hind believes more should be done to attract pupils to the middle schools to increase numbers - Credit: West Suffolk Council

A petition has been launched by Bury St Edmunds town councillors Donna Higgins and Diane Hind in liaison with families and it has already amassed more than 700 names.

It says the pandemic has caused enormous disruption to education over the last two years and "now is not the time to start closing these schools".

Tim Coulson, chief executive of Unity Schools Partnership, said they "acknowledge and welcome the petition".

Tim Coulson, chief executive of Unity Schools Partnership

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

The petition says: "We call on Unity Schools Partnership to ensure that pupils can settle back into a secure learning environment, by allowing for a period of stability before reviewing the current structure of the schools they manage in Bury St Edmunds.

"We recognise that the academy has only been involved with these schools for two years and feel they need more time to explore raising the numbers on roll. 

"We call for pupils who are in current Years 4 and 5 to be able to progress through the schools as they expected, fulfilling their expectations of a middle school provision and not being hindered by a major reorganisation during their school life."

It says this would give time to re-establish County Upper - which the middles feed into it - as a school that was graded as 'outstanding' by Ofsted multiple times in its history.

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The petition concludes: "If at the end of this period the numbers still suggest that two middle schools can not be supported then we ask that at least one is maintained so that the specialist facilities and teaching could still be accessed by families who choose it."

Councillor Higgins, a former teacher at Horringer Court Middle, said: "I just think they need to think a little bit more long term and particularly they need to just actually not rock the boat for the current pupils going through."

She said the middle school system may be an anomaly, but "there should be some capacity to give people some choice".

Both Westley and Horringer Court middle schools are rated 'good' by Ofsted.

Westley headteacher Ben Jeffery

Westley headteacher Ben Jeffery - Credit: Archant

Councillor Hind, who is also a district councillor, said Unity needed to work harder to promote the schools to try and increase pupil numbers.

Steve Palmer and Ben Jeffery, headteachers of Horringer Court Middle School and Westley Middle School respectively, are inviting parents of Year 4 children, who have not yet applied for a place in September 2022, to additional open events at both middle schools in the week beginning Monday, February 14.

Please contact either school if you would like to attend.

Mr Coulson said: “We would like to thank everyone who has taken part in our public consultation so far. Every single opinion shared will be taken into account."

To find out more or take part in the consultation visit the website.

There is an online public meeting on Monday, February 7, ahead of the consultation ending on February 17.