Anger over education shake-up

Hundreds of parents, pupils and teachers will demonstrate in Lowestoft on Saturday over plans to axe the county's middle schools. Representative from all 40 Suffolk middle schools, as well as councillors and Waveney MP Bob Blizzard, are expected at the two-hour protest on Royal Green at noon.

Hundreds of parents, pupils and teachers will demonstrate in Lowestoft on Saturday over plans to axe the county's middle schools.

Representative from all 40 Suffolk middle schools, as well as councillors and Waveney MP Bob Blizzard, are expected at the two-hour protest on Royal Green at noon.

The demonstration has been organised by campaign group Parents Against Change (PAC), which is lobbying Suffolk County Council not to rubber stamp the shift from a three-tier school system to a two-tier one, when the proposal comes before them next month.

There have also been concerns that sixth forms could suffer as part of the reorganisation, with the proposal including plans to make sixth forms a minimum of 200 pupils, well below numbers at many county schools.

Yesterday PAC spokesman and protest organiser Malcolm Gibbs, who has three young children, said he hoped the protest would make the council realise how passionately local people felt about the closures.

He said: "We are expecting between 500 and 1,000 people.

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"We just want to show that there's cohesion in the way everyone feels, that people feel very strongly about going over to a two-tier system.

"We want to highlight parents' concerns. In terms of a child's education, middle schools are a stepping stone between junior and senior school, and in my opinion children get a better education there."

Last night Mr Blizzard, who worked as a teacher before becoming an MP, said: "I am wholeheartedly backing this campaign.

"I was a teacher for 25 years and I know issues such as the quality of teaching provision and discipline are far more important than structure.

"I visit all the schools in my constituency and there is a lot of good working going on at middle schools.

"Also it is not just about middle schools, it is about the future of our sixth forms as well. I can fully understand why parents are upset."

However, plans for a second demonstration by PAC in Bury St Edmunds next month have been called off, after police voiced concerns over public safety.

Suffolk Police had asked the organisers to provide expected numbers of protesters so that the event could be adequately policed.

But after being unable to do so, PAC pulled the plug on the event.

Organiser Steve Cowper said: "The safety of the children is our first priority and we fully support the police."

But in Lowestoft Mr Gibbs said PAC had worked closely with Suffolk police, who had no problem with Saturday's demonstration.

Suffolk police spokeswoman Anne-Marie Breach said: "Our priority is public safety, so we will listen to the organisers of any large event and give them advice.

"In terms of the demonstration in Lowestoft, we have worked closely with the organisers and we are satisfied it will not be a problem."