Essex school battle not over

CONTROVERSIAL and radical plans to revolutionise secondary education in Colchester moved a significant step closer yesterday despite strong public opposition.

Roddy Ashworth

CONTROVERSIAL and radical plans to revolutionise secondary education in Colchester moved a significant step closer yesterday despite strong public opposition.

But last night the town's MP said that the battle to stop the proposals - which would lead to the closure of three schools and the creation of an academy - was still far from over.

A meeting of Essex County Council's cabinet yesterday approved the publication next month of statutory notices announcing the closure of Alderman Blaxill and Thomas Lord Audley (TLA) schools along with the Sir Charles Lucas Arts College.

All three schools are currently seen by the council to have failed “year on year” to hit targets and despite recent improvements they are not considered able to recover enough to offer first-class education to children in the town. They also face falling numbers as parents opt to send their children elsewhere.

The proposals will see an academy established in 2010 in or near the Sir Charles Lucas site. Meanwhile Alderman Blaxill and TLA will stop taking new children in the same year. The schools will close in 2014.

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The council then plans to oversee the rebuilding and expansion of all of Colchester's non-selective secondary schools under the Government's “Building Schools for the Future” programme.

Yesterday's plans were approved by cabinet despite opposition from 96.7% of those who responded during a period of public consultation.

Those against the plans include Colchester Borough Council and local MP Bob Russell.

But yesterday Lord Hanningfield, leader of Essex County Council, said: “I appreciate that this is an immensely emotive issue and that there are people who will never be persuaded by these proposals. It is, however, my sincere belief that, given time, the real value of what has been outlined today will become self-evident.”

He added: “Every child deserves the very best education and under this new structure that is exactly what every child in Colchester will get.

“The proposals expand popular and successful schools, increase parental choice, improve outcomes for young people, enhance and diversify provision for all and seek to secure significant funding to update secondary school buildings across the town.”

A final decision is expected at June's Cabinet meeting.

However, Mr Russell, who presented a Parliamentary petition in the House of Commons to save Alderman Blaxill and TLA, said: “The battle to stop the Tory-run county council from shutting these schools is far from over.

“This Parliamentary petition, signed by local residents, will require an official response from the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, the Rt Hon Ed Balls MP.”

He added: “The county council's case for closure does not stand up to examination.

“They are planning to destroy two community schools against the wishes of the local communities of Berechurch and Shrub End, and against the wishes of Colchester Borough Council.”