Plans for Suffolk's last middle schools to close due to dwindling numbers

Horringer Court Middle School (left) and Westley Middle School (right), both in Bury St Edmunds, are planned to close

Horringer Court Middle School (left) and Westley Middle School (right), both in Bury St Edmunds, are planned to close next year - Credit: Google Maps

The last remaining Suffolk middle schools are proposed to shut in 2023 - closing the final chapter on the move to two-tier education that began more than a decade ago.

Unity Schools Partnership has announced it is planning to close Westley Middle School and Horringer Court Middle School in Bury St Edmunds in August next year due to a fall in pupil numbers.

The trust has said, if the proposals go ahead, they aim to offer a chance of redeployment to all 63 staff at Westley Middle and 34 staff at Horringer Court Middle.

These middle schools, both rated 'good' by Ofsted, are currently part of an all-through system with Tollgate Primary School and County Upper School, both in the town. 

Westley Middle School is a feeder school for County Upper, both in Bury St Edmunds

Westley Middle School is a feeder school for County Upper, both in Bury St Edmunds - Credit: Google

Today, Unity launched public consultation on plans to shut Westley and Horringer Court middles and extend the age ranges at County Upper and Tollgate Primary - bringing it in line with the two-tier system in the rest of the town and county.

In 2007 Suffolk County Council agreed to abolish middle schools in the county under the School Organisation Review, moving to a system of primaries and secondaries over nine years, but these four Bury St Edmunds schools kept to the three-tier system, which they said was a "very successful all-through approach".

However, the number of families choosing the middle-school route has been dwindling, the consultation document said, with expected pupil numbers of 550 in September 2024 - a drop of a third compared to 2018. This would also mean a reduced number of students feeding into County Upper.

Horringer Court Middle School is also a feeder school for County Upper

Horringer Court Middle School is also a feeder school for County Upper - Credit: Google

The document said: "We believe that it is time to propose that we recognise that the pupil numbers are too low to maintain the three-tier system, and it is now time to have one common system for transferring between schools."

Unity has 30 schools that operate in Bury St Edmunds and also in and around Newmarket, Haverhill, Sudbury, Ipswich and Felixstowe.

A trust spokesperson said the aim is to offer all Westley Middle and Horringer Court Middle employees a chance for redeployment in another school in the trust, which will include the additional posts that will be needed at Tollgate Primary School and County Upper School, but could also be at one of the other schools they run.

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They said the proposals were not based on cost savings, but on avoiding schools becoming too small to be viable.

Feasibility studies have taken place on expansions at both Tollgate and County Upper, but at this stage they are not expecting there to be new buildings, but instead modifications to ensure existing buildings are suitable for the enlarged schools.

Councillor Clive Springett said closing both middle schools would potentially be an 'absolute nightmare'

Councillor Clive Springett said closing both middle schools would potentially be an 'absolute nightmare' - raising questions over where local children would go to school - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

West Suffolk Councillor Clive Springett, who represents the Minden ward, which includes Westley Middle, said closing the middles could potentially be "an absolute nightmare" - raising concerns over where local children would go to school.

He said: "Unity should reconsider and look to consolidate one of the sites [Westley Middle or Horringer Court]. We need schooling on that side of the town.

"Failing that, Suffolk County Council needs to step up and provide extra services at Sextons Manor [Community Primary] for the rest of the estate."

Westley Middle and Horringer Court Middle are about a mile apart. But it would take 35 minutes to walk from Westley Middle to Tollgate Primary and at least a 45-minute walk from Horringer Court Middle to Tollgate Primary, to give an idea of how far the areas are from one another.

Mr Springett added: "That's going to cause no end of problems for parents on the Westley estate getting to Tollgate."

Under the plans, Tollgate would extend its year groups to year 5 in September 2022 and to year 6 in September 2023 and from September 2023, County Upper would extend its year groups to include years 7 and 8, with children accepted that September into years 7, 8 and 9.

In September 2023, County Upper would teach the pupils that apply to move into years 7 and 8 on one site (Westley) as part of County Upper school, the consultation document said.

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

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

Tim Coulson, chief executive of Unity Schools Partnership, said: "We have been proud to work with these middle schools since they joined the trust last year.

“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.”

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

Under the plans, County Upper School would extend its age range to include years 7 and 8 from September 2023

Under the plans, County Upper School in Bury St Edmunds would extend its age range to include years 7 and 8 from September 2023 - Credit: Gregg Brown

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 County Upper School on Wednesday, February 2, at 7pm.

To book visit the eventbrite website. 

There will also be parent and carer meetings, with details sent directly to them.

For more information on the consultation see here.

Tollgate Primary School is proposed to extend its year groups to year 5 in September 2022 and to year 6 in September 2023

Tollgate Primary School is proposed to extend its year groups to year 5 in September 2022 and to year 6 in September 2023 - Credit: Rachel Edge

A spokesperson for Suffolk County Council said: “We continue to support the work the trust is doing to deliver the best quality education for their students and will await the outcome of the consultation.”

Tollgate Primary, Horringer Court Middle, Westley Middle and County Upper were previously under the Bury St Edmunds All-Through Trust.

The two middle school sites are owned by Suffolk County Council. The trust has leases to use these sites, but will return the sites to the county council if the schools close.





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