Tory website slams Clare school closure

A DEVASTATING criticism of Conservative-controlled Suffolk county council's “anti-choice” education policy which will force hundreds of children in rural areas to be bussed to large secondary schools has been published on an Internet blog site read daily by tens of thousands of Tory voters.

Graham Dines

A DEVASTATING criticism of Conservative-controlled Suffolk county council's “anti-choice” education policy which will force hundreds of children in rural areas to be bussed to large secondary schools has been published on an Internet blog site read daily by tens of thousands of Tory voters.

Nick Seaton of the Campaign for Real Education, says that children will suffer from the decision in particular to shut Clare middle school. He accused the council of “allowing left wing bureaucrats to drive” its schools policy and he was backed by Suffolk South's Tory MP Tim Yeo who said he was “disappointed” that the council was not following the party's policy nationally of supporting aspirational parents who want to keep good schools open.

Mr Seaton argues that Clare middle school should be expanded into a full secondary school rather than bussing pupils to a newly created secondary school in Haverhill.

Although he backs the general policy of changing from a three-tier to a two-tier secondary system, he adds: “Closing Clare's middle school instead of increasing the age-range it covers means that from the age of 11 upwards, children will be forced unnecessarily to travel perhaps 20 miles each day to and from secondary schools in either Haverhill or Sudbury.”

“Even if other considerations are ignored, at a time when we are faced supposedly with global warming and overcrowded roads, does it make sense to close a successful and popular local school? Common sense says not.”

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He concentrates on the council's statement that Suffolk will only receive £600million of Government money under the Building Schools for the Future Programme if it has “a clear vision for the future and detailed plans about how we will improve our school.”

Parents who are battling to save Clare school have lobbied schools' minister Jim Knight but they have to overome the hurdle that secondary schools should have 1,200 pupils, excluding the sixth form. The council is insisting that pupils from the Clare area must attend Castle Manor Business and Enterprise College in Haverhill, where last year only 23% of pupils achieved five or more grade A*-C GCSEs including English and maths.

Mr Seaton adds: “What has happened to the traditional Conservative aspirations - freedom within the law, genuine choice and common sense? Come on Conservatives - you have control in Suffolk and elsewhere. Where are your backbones.”

Tim Yeo said the party's Westminster education spokesman Michael Gove was sympathetic to the parents. “Quite frankly, Suffolk is going against the party's policy on education which is to support good schools.

“I am disappointed that we have no been able to persuade the county council to keep Clare school open.”

Mr Seaton's remarks on ConservativeHome have drawn support from Tory activists, including one comment: “Oh great, another clueless `Conservative council' abusing the term Conservative.”

Patricia O'Brien, the council's portfolio holder for schools, denied the county was against small or successful schools. “However, in this particular case, a secondary school in Clare is simply not viable.

“This is nothing to do with left-wing bureaucrats. This is Conservative councillors making the right decision to revert from three to two tier, and now finding the most viable way of delivering a quality secondary education for the children of Clare, Haverhill and Sudbury.

“A secondary school at Clare could affect the viability of other secondary schools in the area. It would also cost an additional £17.6 million, which, if we went ahead with this, would have to be taken away from the buildings budgets of other schools.”

Mrs O'Brien, who said Tory MPs in the area other than Mr Yeo supported the plans, added that a school in Clare would need transport for those children who live in the outlying areas.

ConservativeHome

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