‘Devastating’ - Parents’ fury at plans to abolish school catchment areas in Suffolk

Youngsters from Thurston Community College with Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott (back row) at

Youngsters from Thurston Community College with Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott (back row) at Endeavour House where they made representations regarding the school transport proposals Picture: JASON NOBLE - Credit: Archant

Proposals to abolish school catchment areas have been met with a backlash from parents who fear it will spell confusion, disruption and added transport costs – particularly in rural areas.

Suffolk County Council is consulting on the possible changes, which would see school admissions determined on a nearest school basis.

The council said no changes would happen before 2021/22 – and many academies and free schools had already abolished catchment areas.

However, parents in parts of Suffolk where schools are still run by SCC said the current system worked well whereas the changes would destroy relationships which have been built between primary and secondary schools.

Fiona Macaulay, who currently lives in the Thurston Community College catchment said there was “amazing collaboration” with the local primary schools, which had been “invaluable” in helping pupils in year six, including her son, make the step to high school. “There is a danger that this will be lost,” she said. “SCC seems intent on destroying all the hard work that has been done.”

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Emma Deacon, who lives in Brent Eleigh and has children attending Lavenham Primary School and Thomas Gainsborugh School in Great Cornard, said she feared her younger children would be made to attend Ormiston Academy when they reach high school age.

She said this would make it “impossible” for her and many other parents – as it would involve arranging transport to two separate schools as well as different term dates.

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Having already been hit with hundreds of pounds in extra costs through SCC’s controversial school transport cuts, Mrs Deacon said she was going to have to drive her children to school as she could no longer afford transport.

Mrs Deacon also accused SCC of trying to push the changes “through the back door” by failing to make the proposals more obvious in the consultation - and failing to tell headteachers about the proposals.

She said it would be “the final nail in the coffin” for Suffolk’s few remaining non-academy schools. “This is all about shoving more schools through the academisation process,” she added.

Sue Bates, who has three children in the Thurston catchment said the changes would be “devastating”.

“Rural families especially have been ripped apart enough with changes already made,” she added.

Thurston principal Helen Wilson said: “While Thurston Community College welcomes applications for school places from all students, wherever they live, it still values the catchment area admissions priority.

“It gives schools, parents and children within the catchment area a coherent pathway from primary to secondary education.

“Thurston Community College formed the Thurston Partnership with the 16 primary schools in its catchment area more than seven years ago.

“Together, these schools have developed an approach to the transition of pupils from primary to secondary school that ensures that the “dip” in attainment when changing school has been minimised.

“We would be very concerned if the elimination of catchment areas and a move towards a nearest school admissions priority fragmented the pattern of school transfer.” Helen Wilson, Principal, Thurston Community College

Jack Abbott, Labour’s education spokesman at SCC, said he could understand if parents were “really angry” about the proposed changes, particularly in rural areas hardest hit by the recent cuts to school transport.

“I’ve not seen any justification for these changes, which will have a massive impact on rural areas,” he added.

“I know how much schools and parents value the collaboration and transitional work between primaries and high schools within catchment areas and it seems entirely counterproductive to do away with a system that has been proven to work successfully.

“It could also result in the bizarre situation where children living on different sides of the same village, who attended the same primary school, will have to go to different secondary schools.

“I simply cannot understand why the county council has decided to go into battle against the same parents, schools and rural communities it’s just been fighting over the school transport system.

“It makes no sense educationally, logistically or politically.”

Mr Abbott also criticised the way the consultation has been launched, which he claimed had attempted to bury the key point that catchment areas could be abolished. He said any new school openings, such as free schools, could completely change the admission criteria for existing schools, leaving them massively undersubscribed.

A Suffolk County Council spokesman said: “Suffolk County Council are not proposing to make any significant changes to the admission arrangements or to make changes the oversubscription catchment area priority for community and voluntary controlled schools for the 2020/2021 school year.

“As part of this consultation, we are seeking views on potential future changes to the oversubscription criteria in terms of the removal of catchment area priority. If it is decided to progress a change, any new proposals would have to be consulted on from October 2019. If agreed, the changes would apply from the 2021/2022 school year.

“Some schools, particularly academies and free schools, no longer use catchment areas as a way of prioritising applications for school places.”

The consultation, which started on Monday October, will run until November 12.

The county council is seeking views on its proposed admissions policy for the 2020/2021 school year as well as future arrangements. Visit Suffolk County Council for more. A paper copy of the survey can be requested by calling, 0345 603 1842.

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