MP wants school closure decision delayed

A SUFFOLK MP is calling for education chiefs to delay a decision on whether to close a middle school until after the General Election - claiming a future Conservative Government's policy could save it.

Craig Robinson

A SUFFOLK MP is calling for education chiefs to delay a decision on whether to close a middle school until after the General Election - claiming a future Conservative Government's policy could save it.

Speaking ahead of today's cabinet meeting at which Suffolk County Council will debate plans to close four middle schools - including Stoke by Nayland - South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo said any action should wait until after May 6.

Last night Conservative councillor Graham Newman, Suffolk County Council cabinet member for schools, said even if a Tory Government came to power in May there was no guarantee they would provide enough money to keep the schools open.

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But Mr Yeo said: “It is extremely likely that fourteen weeks from now Britain will have a new government. A flagship Conservative policy which will immediately be implemented concerns schools. It will facilitate exactly the approach the Stoke by Nayland campaigners want in giving parents more choice and establishing new free schools whose characteristics reflect parental wishes.”

The action group Save Our School Stoke by Nayland was dealt a blow last week after the county council rejected its proposal to see the village's middle school turned into a flagship secondary school when Suffolk introduces a two-tier education system.

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Mr Yeo said it was strange the council was resisting the campaign group's wishes given the imminent prospect of a new government.

If the decision to deny the school secondary status is ratified children in Stoke-by Nayland will have to travel to Great Cornard Upper and Sudbury Upper.

“Irreversible action at Stoke by Nayland should at least be delayed until after May 6 to leave open the possibility of establishing a free school there,” added Mr Yeo.

He also urged the county council to look at the implications of sending children from rural areas to bigger schools such as Great Cornard Upper which he said served children from a largely urban environment.

He said: “This does not imply any criticism of Cornard Upper, of which I am a long standing admirer, but it is not right for every child.”

Backing from the MP was welcomed by members of the campaign group who have vowed to continue their fight.

A statement released by the group yesterday said: “Surely if parents, community leaders, businesses and politicians from all parties support this proposition, our elected representatives should reflect their views now and make it happen.

“We cannot afford to close a high performing school like Stoke by Nayland and increase the pressure to perform on Great Cornard and Sudbury upper schools.”

The statement added that is was urging the council to revisit the decision on Stoke by Nayland and to seek professional advice on the arguments put forward by civil servants against a secondary school in the village.

The three other middle schools facing closure under county council plans are All Saints , Uplands and Great Cornard.

Last night Mr Newman said he would welcome a Conservative Government - but even then there was no guarantee their policies would save the school.

He said as things stood �4m would be needed to bring Stoke by Nayland up to standard - money the county council just did not have.

Even if that was possible he said that could take students away from nearby Great Cornard - a school that was already large enough for 800 youngsters and was performing above the national average.

“If a future Government comes along and says we don't mind having 300 spare places at Great Cornard, we will fund that, or it says they will fund a new school then that's a slightly different issue,” he said. “But my understanding is that David Cameron will target schools that are failing and schools in under privileged areas. We don't have an failing school and we are not in an area of deprivation.”

He said although the local community said they had the backing of local businesses he was concerned about what would happen to the sustainability of any school should one of those businesses face financial difficulties.

He added that he was determined to move Suffolk from a three to a two tier education system because he believed it would improve standards and attract the very best teachers.

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