Middle school axe deflates campaigners

CAMPAIGNERS who fought a long campaign to save Suffolk's middle schools were visibly deflated and angry at yesterday's decision - but said they would not give up.

CAMPAIGNERS who fought a long campaign to save Suffolk's middle schools were visibly deflated and angry at yesterday's decision - but said they would not give up.

Earlier, parents and governors from Bury St Edmunds to Bungay had gathered in the sunshine outside Endeavour House to make their feelings clear with chants, banners and placards.

But, after a gruelling five-hour Suffolk County Council meeting, they left in the dark of the night with little to show for their efforts.

Many opponents who joined the demonstration and listened to the debate were scathing of the quality of the discussion, which they said did not engage with the core issues raised in the year-long consultation.

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Steve Cowper, chairman of the Parents Against Change (PAC) group, said: “We were all disturbed at how poor the democratic process has been having seen the quality of the debate and how flippantly councillors treated the issues.

“Some of the things they had to say were ridiculous and nobody seemed to have listened to parents' concerns.”

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Looking ahead, Mr Cowper did not rule out a launching a judicial review of the decision and he vowed to continue with PAC.

“We didn't have a plan for what to do after today because there was still a chance they could vote for a no,” he said.

“As a group I think we will stand down for a while but we are not going to disappear. We will wait and see what the details hold.”

Sarah Mansel a parent at Beyton Middle School, near Bury St Edmunds, who cycled from her home in Elmswell in protest at the plans, said she would support a move to launch a judicial review.

“It is very disappointing - I still thought there was hope,” she said. “I feel very annoyed because I think the council have got it wrong. They haven't answered questions and they haven't addressed the issues.

“I've not had time to fully digest the decision but I would support PAC if they wanted to take it to judicial review.”

Lyndsey Keswick, a parent at Blackborne Middle School in Stanton, near Bury, singled out the Conservative side of the debate for particular criticism.

She said: “I think they had all made their minds up. I am very disappointed - they tried to reduce our points to whether the two-tier system was worse than the three-tier system.

“What we were saying was the difference between the two was not great enough to justify the change.”

Tracey Clewer, a parent at Beyton Middle school, said: “I think this was a real miscarriage of justice.

“But although I am disappointed I am not surprised. I think what they missed is how much this is going to cost.

“It is such a waste. I put the cost of this at £180million and it cannot be guaranteed to raise standards.”

Christine Johnson, a parent and a governor at Bungay Middle School, was critical of how the reorganisation would fit with national education policy.

She said: “At a time when the Government is moving away from SATS (Standard Attainement Tests) and into sixth form education it seems foolish to try and cram more pupils into a two-tier system.

“They need to give it more time and they haven't discussed where the money is coming from for all of this.”

Martin Goold, Suffolk secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “We're disappointed with the decision because we wanted the council to come up with a much better thought-out plan.

“It means we are going to have to look very carefully at the plan that is put forward, school by school, area by area. It's a sad day for the pupils and teachers at middle schools. I can see quite a lot of difficulties ahead.”

Keith Anderson, Suffolk NASUWT secretary said: “This will have the potential of destroying our members' jobs and future careers.

“Many of our members will not hang around waiting for the axe to fall, but will be looking for jobs outside of the county where they can choose the school they work in, the age group they teach and the post of responsibility that they hold. This will have a devastating effect on pupils' education”.

Chris Harrison, Suffolk secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said: “The major issue we will be looking at is to offer support to all our members at the affected schools.

“Some headteachers were against this but the decision has been made and we must make sure there is support for them through what will be a very challenging period.”

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