Major review of Suffolk schools revealed

A MAJOR shake-up of education in Suffolk could see the abolition of some middle schools, it has been revealed.Suffolk County Council has announced it is calling for a large scale review of the schooling system that could result in the reorganisation of the current three tier structure of primary, middle and secondary schools.

By Danielle Nuttall

A MAJOR shake-up of education in Suffolk could see the abolition of some middle schools, it has been revealed.

Suffolk County Council has announced it is calling for a large scale review of the schooling system that could result in the reorganisation of the current three tier structure of primary, middle and secondary schools.

The move was met with concern by union officials last night, who claim the decision-making process could be unfair and lead to the closure of some middle schools for the wrong reasons.


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The review will look at population changes across the county and the need to improve the breadth and choice of opportunities for 14- to 19-year-olds.

But it is also set to explore whether the present mixture of two and three-tier education best serves all pupils in Suffolk.

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There are currently 40 middle schools in Suffolk, 14 in the north of the county and 26 in the west.

Patricia O'Brien, portfolio holder for children, schools and young people's services, did not deny last night the review could lead to some middle school closures.

“Who knows? That's going to be the subject of the review. If it's decided that's the best way forward for Suffolk, that's what would happen,” she said.

“We are not going to decide that ourselves. It will be looked at by a panel of people. If that's what comes forward - that it's better to have a two tier system than a three tier system - that's what we will have to go out and consult about.”

The panel will comprise of councillors, the Diocesan authorities and the Learning and Skills Council and will also rely on the views of headteachers and governors.

But Martin Goold, Suffolk secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said both high schools and primary schools had their own agendas, which could result in middle schools being “squeezed” from both sides.

“All the provision for 14- to 19-year-olds has to be reassessed because upper high schools from 2007 have got to be able to offer students any course they wish and any combination,” he said.

“This means the upper high schools are going to have to maximise their size in order to make themselves as viable as possible. Chances are secondary schools would want to expand.

“One quick way is to close the middle schools and transfer years seven and eight to upper high schools. This very often would be approved of by primary schools with surplus places because years five and six are transferred to primary schools in the same area.

“Upper high schools will get years seven and eight which will increase their income to employ more teachers and offer a greater range of subjects. Primary schools would get a large influx transferred from middle schools.

“Human nature being what it is, headteachers and governors of existing schools are all fighting for their own patch and middle schools could well get squeezed from both sides from the primary side and the secondary side.”

He added: “We fear in some areas that could well mean the end of middle schools. It's a bad thing for parents who do not want it and it's a bad thing if it's done for the wrong reasons in order to match buildings to pupils.”

Mr Goold said is was widely believed middle schools were better for a child's development as they were being educated in a much smaller organisation.

“When this was mooted in the past, two decades ago, middle schools were very popular and the plan to close them in Bury was shelved after public protest,” he said.

“That was when the decision was taken by the county council. My point is there is no overarching political lead form the county council about this so if a middle school disappears in a particular area it will be because the forum set up to represent schools in that area has so decided.”

Mrs O'Brien is set to formerly call for the review at a county council meeting on January 10.

“In Suffolk, every child matters and we owe it to our children and young people to explore every option that might improve their futures,” she said.

“I believe the review could be the first step towards that goal and I hope that everyone will take the opportunity to contribute fully to the process. We want to be sure that we have the right school structure in place to enable us to compete and meet the needs of the 21st century.”

The panel is expected to report back to the council on its findings in the autumn.

danielle.nuttall@eadt.co.uk

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