Town could be set for new school

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save education in their town after the abolition of middle schools were last night given fresh hope with the prospect of a new school.

Graham Dines

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save education in their town after the abolition of middle schools were last night given fresh hope with the prospect of a new school.

Suffolk County Council bosses announced yesterday that the first phase of middle school closures will begin in four years if proposals for a major educational reorganisation in the county get approved by the council later this month.

Haverhill, Clare and Lowestoft will be the first areas affected by the changes, which will eventually result in all the county's 40 middle schools shutting their doors - despite a campaign by parents to keep them open.

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But the campaign group in Clare believe they have found a way to keep education in their town. Government legislation means the county council must support any bid made by parents for a foundation trust college.

Jim Meikle, of Clare and Local Area for Rural Education (CLARE) said the group was confident a community college bid would be successful.

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In the bid, which will be fully explained in the next few weeks, the college would move into the middle school when it closes.

He said: “They've come up with a council policy to close middle schools and that is their decision. Our plan will be for a new school altogether.

“Other similar bids have been successful in other parts of the country and we have the advantage of already having the premises, which only need a little modification.

“It is very early days but we are confident there are ways and means. The next step will be to create a temporary governing body for the new school before we finalise our proposals to be sent to Suffolk and Essex County Councils, and the Secretary of State.”

Mr Meikle, who has led the campaign for a new school in Clare after the county council picked its favoured scheme of sending youngsters from the town and surrounding villages to high schools in Haverhill, said they were also in talks with business leaders and top universities forging links to strengthen the bid.

Final detailed proposals for Lowestoft have been delayed until September to enable the county council to find partners to run a new secondary school in south Lowestoft and for the education and skills council to attract a provider for a new post-16 college in the town.

The council's cabinet is to be asked at its June 24 meeting to approve the timetable for the Haverhill and Clare changes. In September 2010, pupils will remain at their primary schools instead of transferring to middle schools.

The following year's intake will also remain at their primary schools and the middle schools will close at the end of the summer term 2012 when the older children are transferred to secondary schools.

After a statutory notice was published into the changes at Haverhill and Clare, the council received 13 objections to the proposed admission numbers at Wickhambrook, Westfield and New Cangle primary schools, the relocation of Clare primary school into the buildings occupied by the current middle school, and the future location of Westfield, Clements and Burton End schools.

However, the cabinet will be asked to give their final backing for the published proposals, which Patricia O'Brien - Suffolk's portfolio holder for children, schools and young people's services - said would “help to increase educational standards in our schools and allow youngsters to achieve their full potential.

“Reorganising our schools will help them to better meet the needs of the communities they serve and will make the most of available funding.

“A two year transition period has been included in the timetable, which will help to ensure adequate preparation has taken place to make the changes as smooth as possible for everyone involved.”

Mrs O'Brien added: “This will allow us to provide training and development for our staff so they can help young people improve their levels of achievement.”

Later this year, detailed proposals will be published for abolition of middle schools in Newmarket, Leiston, Beccles and Bungay.

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