School review costs 'out of control'

THE cost of a major education shake up in which all of Suffolk's 40 middle schools will close is spiralling “out of control”, campaigners claimed last night.

Laurence Cawley

THE cost of a major education shake up in which all of Suffolk's 40 middle schools will close is spiralling “out of control”, campaigners claimed last night.

When Suffolk County Council decided to pursue its school organisation review (SOR) last year, the entire process was expected to cost between £58million and £70million.

But it has now emerged the cost of the SOR in Haverhill and Lowestoft alone could cost as much as £73million, with the Haverhill portion now expected to cost between £18.7 and £25.7million, Lowestoft between £7.8 and £21.1million and a new secondary school for Lowestoft at a cost of £26.5million.

It means the end total for just these two towns could reach £73.3 million - more than £3million above the original cost set out for the entire SOR project.

And it does not account for the next areas to be looked at which include Saxmundham, Leiston, Brandon, Beccles, Bungay, Leiston, Mildenhall, Bury St Edmunds, Sudbury, Thurston and Stowmarket.

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The county council claim the higher than anticipated figures are the result of “inflation in school building costs” and the “realities arising at individual school sites”.

But Steve Cowper, of campaign group Parents Against Change (PAC), said the figures were “getting out of control” and claimed the situation was foreseen by PAC many months ago.

He said the new costs to implement the SOR in Haverhill and Lowestoft were now roughly the same as the county council originally put forward for the entire raft of changes.

Martin Goold, county secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “In terms of the costs it is going to be even greater. We think it is a mess. We think it is going to be even more expensive.”

Keith Anderson, honorary secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters, Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), said the current figures would spiral upwards still further if the council created a new sixth form centre for Haverhill.

He said he now feared, faced with the mounting SOR bill, the county council might plug for the cheapest option.

“It would not surprise me if they try doing this on the cheap. The reality will start to come home and this is just Haverhill and Lowestoft. This will be a huge concern for pupils, parents and staff.”

A spokesman for the county council said: “The ongoing review of schools across the county is about improving standards and opportunities for young people in Suffolk, it is not a money saving exercise.

“The figures quoted in early 2007 were, as clearly stated, desk top estimates, given before options for Haverhill and Lowestoft were developed.

“These estimates were based on what the costs would be of providing two tier education in areas where young people currently attend three schools (primary, middle and secondary), rather than for an individual area.

“The amount to be gained from potential capital receipts for the two areas has also been revised in the light of the proposals that have now been developed for schools.

“The new secondary school for the south of Lowestoft will open in September 2011, in line with the other changes set for the area. Funding for the new secondary school will come from the Building Schools for the Future programme.”

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