Why schools have got to close - council

THE leader of Essex County Council has defended his decision to ignore the views of thousands of parents and proceed with controversial plans to close three schools.

James Hore

THE leader of Essex County Council has defended his decision to ignore the views of thousands of parents and proceed with controversial plans to close three schools.

Lord Hanningfield has ended months of speculation in Colchester and is proposing to shut Alderman Blaxill, The Thomas Lord Audley (TLA) and Sir Charles Lucas Schools, claiming “world-class” education is on the way.

However, in a twist, he has revealed there will be a “state of the art” vocational centre in the Monkwick area to provide education and training for teenagers from across the whole town.

The Sir Charles Lucas site, on the Greenstead estate, will close at the end of August next year and become an academy the following day.

Three possible proposals were put forward by the council and its final choice is an altered version of its “option one” and means Alderman Blaxill and TLA will close in 2014, although they will not take any new pupils from September next year.

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Pupils will be allocated to alternative schools in the surrounding area which will be expanded to cope with the extra numbers.

During the consultation, a “community option” won favour with many and would have led to a three-site school incorporating TLA, Alderman Blaxill and the Stanway School.

Staff would have worked at the trio of schools under the leadership of Jonathan Tippett, who is already headteacher of all three schools , but the council rejected the idea as “unviable”.

The community option would have automatically meant the three schools' pass rates would have gone above the Government's target threshold of 30% of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at A*to C, including English and maths.

But Lord Hanningfield said yesterday he had “unashamedly higher” ambitions for Colchester, which currently has three out of Essex's six schools that are in special measures.

He said the council's proposal, which will be voted on by cabinet members on Tuesday, dealt with the key issues of declining pupil numbers and the disparity of standards between south Colchester and elsewhere.

Lord Hanningfield said: “The seriousness of the issues facing Colchester's secondary provision as a whole means that decisive action is absolutely necessary.

“That's why the first consultation was called and that's why, as I have emphasised time and again, to do nothing was never an option.

“The refined proposals which I am putting forward shows that the council has listened to residents' concerns and been won over by their arguments. The vocational centre will ensure that south Colchester retains an educational focus. It will also help the council deliver a wider variety of educational opportunities to the children of Colchester than ever before.

“The Colchester Institute provides a wonderful service for young people aged 16 and older, but for many those vocational opportunities come too late. By creating this facility - for pupils aged 14 and up - we are developing an educational environment in the town where we really are offering something for everyone. It is win-win all round.”

Lord Hanningfield said the idea of combining Alderman Blaxhill, TLA and the Stanway School “simply will not work”.

He said: “Merging the three schools and reducing capacity would address the declining pupil numbers, but funding would decrease by approximately �1million a year due to the loss of extra project and status money.

“Without those finances, it is hard to see how the current improvements that have been seen at the two schools could be maintained.”

Mr Tippett said neither he, nor the governors, would be making a comment until after Tuesday's cabinet meeting.