End of an era as middle schools close their doors in Bury St Edmunds

Hardwick Heath Middle School's last day before its closure. Bury St Edmunds. Left to right, Sam Blai

Hardwick Heath Middle School's last day before its closure. Bury St Edmunds. Left to right, Sam Blair, Mitchell Barker, Ellis Dobie Cameron Frisby. - Credit: Gregg Brown

An era ended in Bury St Edmunds, and Suffolk as a whole, today as pupils teachers and parents marked the final day of the middle school system.

Howard Middle School's last day before its closure. Bury St Edmunds.

Howard Middle School's last day before its closure. Bury St Edmunds. - Credit: Gregg Brown

All but two middle schools are now left in the entire county, after nine years of a slow and deliberate march towards a two-tier system. Four Bury middle schools closed for the final time this week.

For the pupils in years six, seven and eight there were the inevitable tears as they took the next step to secondary school, with teachers and staff also facing a huge change in their lives.

St James CofE Middle School marked the end with a special leaver’s eucharist at St Edmundsbury Cathedral School this morning.

Headteacher of 18 years Paul Elstone said: “It was a very moving way to end. We have always regarded the cathedral as the school chapel and we have a strong bond with them.”

Howard Middle School's last day before its closure. Bury St Edmunds.

Howard Middle School's last day before its closure. Bury St Edmunds. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Mr Elstone, who is now officially retired, ended the service with the school’s youngest pupil, Olivia Hammond, at his side on the pulpit.

“Had she been born just one day later she would have never come to this school,” he said. “I thought it was nice symbolic way to end.

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“It will be sad for the children, they always get emotional when they have to leave. But two hours later they will be back texting each other and realising that it is not all over.”

The service was led by Reverend Canon Matthew Vernon, who over the years has held upwards of 40 services with the school.

“It may be coming to an end for St James, but education is an incredibly important role for the cathedral,” he said. “We have a strong bond with the schools. We have the Discovery Centre which involves schools from across Suffolk.

“It has been a privilege to play a part of life at St James.”

The closure of middle schools in Bury is the final phase of the schools organisational review (SOR), which saw Suffolk County Council commit to ending three-tier and introducing two-tier, with primary schools up until age 11 and secondary schools through to 16 or 18.

Hardwick Middle School ended its final day with a range of activities for the children, before a final assembly.

Headteacher Rachel Ford, who was on secondment from King Edward VI Secondary School, said: “It is a very emotional day – a day of mixed feelings for staff and pupils.

“We have ended the school leaving the children with a sense of purpose about what happens next. We have been really lucky by working with schools in the Bury Schools Partnership. The pupils have had three days at their next school this term to get them prepared. It is sad, I have really enjoyed my time here. I will be going back to King Edwards with those that are going there [from Hardwick] so I will be able to support them through the change.”

St Louis Catholic Middle School closed its gates for pupils on Wednesday, with an emotional balloon release marking the final day of a much-loved part of the Catholic schools system in the Bury area.

Headteacher Rose Heap has been at the school for ten years, organising a series of events to celebrate, not mourn, the end of and era for her, the town and the pupils.

“We made a promise to parents that we would not let standards slip, and we have achieved that,” she said. “It has not been like a closing school.

“I am extremely grateful for my nearly 30 years in Suffolk middle schools, so of course the occasion is tinged with sadness.”

The school had special pin badges made for pupils, staff and governors to remember their time with the school.

Howard Middle School became a part of the All Through Trust in Bury, which is keeping two middle schools open, but could not escape closure by Suffolk County Council as it did not become an academy.

“It does feel like an end of an era,” said deputy headteacher Beryl Blease. “We have had a lot of events so the pupils feel they got the most out of their time here.

“The staff have been very positive. Many are taking the opportunity to retire or move on to a different challenge, while some will join other schools.”

The pupils ended their final day today with a leavers’ picnic and a final assembly.