Essex schools closure plan under fire

PLANS to launch a massive £100million overhaul of secondary education that could see three comprehensive schools close and replaced by one massive academy came under fire last night.

Elliot Furniss

PLANS to launch a massive £100million overhaul of secondary education that could see three comprehensive schools close and replaced by one massive academy came under fire last night.

The East Anglian Daily Times revealed on Saturday how Essex County Council wants to shut Colchester's Alderman Blaxill, Thomas Lord Audley (TLA) and Sir Charles Lucas schools.

Today sees the start of the consultation process - with documents explaining the proposals sent out to families across the town.

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Under the plans the three schools would be replaced with a multi-million pound academy on or near the Sir Charles Lucas site in Greenstead.

A previous consultation to merge the failing TLA and Alderman Blaxill schools was withdrawn after overwhelming opposition.

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Last night Bob Russell, Lib Dem MP for Colchester, said it was “bonkers” to try to shut the two struggling schools again but Lord Hanningfield, the leader of Essex County Council, said everyone should “digest” the details before judging the move.

County councillors representing the affected areas have delivered a mixed response to the news while teachers' unions have said they remain opposed to academies “in principle”.

Richard Bourne, county councillor for the Maypole division - which covers the areas that serve both TLA and Alderman Blaxill, said the closures would be “disastrous”.

“I really don't think it is the way ahead,” he said. “The progress that has been made has been very good and it shows that if you get the teachers you can raise performances - it's not just about the buildings.

“I would be hoping that during the consultation we would be able to put forward an alternative solution.”

But Julie Young, who represents the Wivenhoe St Andrew division - which includes the Greenstead Estate, said she had to consider her community's best interests.

“I think the proposals do create winners and losers, however for the community that I represent I think the academy would be a good thing,” she said.

Jerry Glazier, general secretary of the Essex district of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said they were opposed to academies in principle and he would meet with Lord Hanningfield tomorrow to discuss the proposals.

“We will support proven changes to provision in Colchester if they enhance opportunities for education for all students across the borough,” he said. “The money for this is there already in the Government's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. They're committed to rebuilding or refurbishing every secondary school in England - there's nothing new in that.

“The original proposals weren't acceptable to the south Colchester community and that's why the council withdrew its plans but I can't see whether this will be any more acceptable.”

Mr Russell said the plans were “stark staring bonkers” and the people of south Colchester would not stand for it.

He said: “Hopefully common sense will prevail. The people of Colchester haven't asked for this - they made it abundantly clear that they were opposed to this (an academy) before but this is even more preposterous and I cannot think there will be much public support for it.”

But Lord Hanningfield defended the proposals and called for more discussions to take place.

He said: “I'm meeting the NUT on Tuesday. We're only there to improve education. I want to make Colchester better. We think it's a fantastic idea to improve education.

“If people aren't very keen on it they don't want a very good education system for Colchester. Academies are everywhere - we're going to have one in Clacton and two in Witham. Let them read all the documents and digest it.”

He said the county council had been spending money on the town's schools for 35 years but nothing had succeeded and it was time for a new approach.

“We can't go on having a second rate education for Colchester,” he added. “It's our job to try to have a first class education in our county.”

Although the council has identified its preferred option, there are two other choices contained in the proposals.

One would also see the closure of Alderman Blaxill and would lead to six secondary schools operating in pairs - Stanway with TLA, the Gilberd with Sir Charles Lucas, and Philip Morant with St Helena - under an umbrella organisation called the Colchester Education Trust.

Thurstable School, in Tiptree, would continue to serve its current area but would be invited to join the trust.

The other option would see all of the borough's comprehensives supported and run from a single, central office - either TLA or Alderman Blaxill could close.

Public consultation meetings will take place at Alderman Blaxill, TLA and Sir Charles Lucas in late November as well as a further meeting at the Colchester Community Stadium on December 9.

People will also be invited to write to or email the council before the consultation period closes on December 19. A decision will then be made by the county council's cabinet in January next year.

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