New Suffolk schools shake-up revealed

EDUCATION bosses have unveiled ambitious £140 million plans for a radical shake-up of secondary schools in east Suffolk.

Craig Robinson

EDUCATION bosses have unveiled ambitious £140 million plans for a radical shake-up of secondary schools in east Suffolk.

Under the proposals, a quarter of high schools in south and west Ipswich will be made into trusts and another converted into an academy.

Meanwhile, the two secondary schools in Felixstowe would merge - although both sites would still be used by students.

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It is the latest in a whole raft of changes being proposed by the county council in a bid to improve youngsters' academic performance - including the abolition of middle schools.

This reorganisation - which will see a blanket two tier educational system across Suffolk - is already underway and is one of the biggest school upheavals in Suffolk's history.

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The latest shake-up will be discussed at a meeting of the county council's Cabinet on Tuesday.

It is part of the Government's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) strategy which aims to rebuild, remodel or refurbish every secondary school in England - including special schools and pupil referral units - by 2020.

Under the proposals Chantry, Stoke, Thurleston and Westbourne high schools in Ipswich will be turned into trusts and Holywells will become an academy.

A school which is given trust status continues to be funded by the state but is supported by a charitable trust and can enter into partnership with local businesses, charities and community groups.

It can also manage its own assets, employ staff directly and set its own admission policy.

Academies are all-ability, state-funded schools established and managed by sponsors from a wide range of backgrounds including high performing schools and colleges, universities, individual donors, businesses and the voluntary sector.

There are also plans to co-locate special schools with mainstream schools wherever possible - similar to the development at Thomas Wolsey and Thurleston which is due to open in Ipswich in January 2009.

Others under consideration include the merger of Belstead Special School with Heathside Special School and Beacon Hill Special School with nearby Chantry High School.

It is hoped the plans will complement the development of a new post-16 facility - known as SWISS - in south west Ipswich which will take in youngsters from Westbourne, Chantry, Thomas Wolsey, Beacon Hill and Belstead schools.

In Felixstowe education chiefs want to combine Deben and Orwell high schools but still use the two sites.

Both currently have small sixth forms and run a joint post-16 facility and it is thought BSF would provide an opportunity to formalise that arrangement- with one option to have an 11-16 school at Orwell and a post-16 and special needs facility at Deben.

Patricia O'Brien, portfolio holder for schools and young people at Suffolk County Council, said last night: “This comes at an opportune time with the Schools Organisational Review.

“It is not about the buildings, it is about raising attainments and we believe we can do this through the environment in the schools to enable pupils to learn in a better environment.

“This is the first of three documents and it has not been finalised yet.”

Speaking of the benefits to a school of being granted academy status, she said: “With some schools when they have tried all sorts to raise standards and it has not worked this is an opportunity to almost start again with a new school sponsored by a business or university with a track record of excellence.”

If the Cabinet vote to recommend the plans a draft will be sent to the Department for Children, Schools and Families in September before a second report - which will set out how the council's plans will be achieved - is submitted later this year.

An outline business case will then be put together in June 2009 and the formal procurement process is expected to start in September of that year.

If everything goes smoothly then the first remodelled or refurbished school is expected to open in September 2012.

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