Leader bullish over school reform

There is an overwhelming case for change in Suffolk's schools, the leader of the county council said yesterday.Jeremy Pembroke was speaking as the full report was published setting out how education in Suffolk will change radically over the next 10 years.

There is an overwhelming case for change in Suffolk's schools, the leader of the county council said yesterday.

Jeremy Pembroke was speaking as the full report was published setting out how education in Suffolk will change radically over the next 10 years.

A meeting of the full county council will make a decision on the proposals next Thursday - but Mr Pembroke said he was "confident" that the changes would be voted through.

The new report confirms plans to replace a three-tier system of primary, middle and high schools with a two-tier system of primary and secondary schools at a cost of £23m.

At the moment, just over half of children in the county are in the three-tier system, mostly in north and west Suffolk, but most schools across the country have moved to a two-tier system.

Change has been in the pipeline for more than a year but a final decision will not be made until next Thursday. The report is the first time that detailed plans have been set out - although there are still no decisions on which school buildings will be sold off, or where the new schools will be.

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Rosalind Turner, director of children's services, said: "We will make sure either their sites are released and the capital gained from them put back into education, or that the buildings are used for another purpose."

And she said that every teacher would be offered training so they could make the transition to a new school system.

There is also change for sixth forms, which will have to close or go into partnership if they have fewer than 200 pupils - as do two of the school sixth forms in Lowestoft. The report recommends that "sixth forms be no fewer than 200 in number in 11-18 schools", though it adds that local circumstances will be taken into account. Because national changes to the curriculum mean that sixth forms will have to offer more courses, including vocational courses, the council believes that they will need to be larger. Meanwhile secondary schools will have an "optimum size" of 1,200, but there will be scope for smaller schools in rural areas.

Patricia O'Brien, portfolio holder for schools and young people, said the changes were designed to improve standards. "It wasn't easy to reach a judgment because we knew the implications would be huge. But nobody hesitated."

The proposals have not been popular with parents or teachers at middle schools, and a string of public meetings and protests have displayed strong feelings.

Yesterday, the Liberal Democrats called for next week's decision to be postponed so a referendum could be held on the same time as local elections in May. Group leader Kathy Pollard said: "This issue does seem to have stirred up many strong feelings and on such an important debate we believe that the people of Suffolk should be given every opportunity to express their views, both for and against."