Middle schools' fate decided today

The fate of 40 middle schools across Suffolk will be decided today.Thousands of children, parents, governors and teaching staff will be waiting by their phones this afternoon for the result of a vote of county councillors that will determine the future of education for the county.

The fate of 40 middle schools across Suffolk will be decided today.

Thousands of children, parents, governors and teaching staff will be waiting by their phones this afternoon for the result of a vote of county councillors that will determine the future of education for the county.

Half of all Suffolk pupils are currently taught in a three-tier system that could be abandoned if a majority of the 75 members back change.

Petitions, protest marches and public meetings have all been organised by campaigners who want to keep the system currently in use across Waveney and much of west Suffolk.

And they are hoping that the Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors oppose the scheme and are joined by at least nine Tory rebels, which would topple the proposal.

The meeting starts at 2pm and debate is expected to last for more than two hours.

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Hundreds of protestors are expected to gather outside Endeavour House in Ipswich where the council is meeting and a live television feed of the discussion will be beamed into a large meeting room because the public gallery in the council chamber only has room for about 50 people.

The major change being proposed is to switch all areas of three-tier schooling in Suffolk to a two-tier system.

As a result, pupils would be taught in primary schools from age four to 11 and then in secondary schools from ages 11 to 16, with the knock-on effect that middle schools would close.

And despite a nine-month period for public comment between January and September 2006, many protestors have insisted that they were not consulted enough.

Many middle school headteachers have argued that the place of middle schools in the community is too valuable to lose and claimed that much of the value of their schools is in social opportunity rather than just test results.

But the council claims changing the system will save £4.4m a year, bring much-needed improvements in school buildings and help push up results in Key Stage 2 tests at age 11.

Mark Bee, councillor for Beccles, said it was a crucial issue for the county.

“This is something that will decide how children are taught not just in the next few years but also for further into the future,” he said.

Parents of both current and future middle school children said yesterday that their main concern was to know what was going to happen next.

Sandra Hendersen from Beccles said: “To be honest, I just want to know what is going to happen next and what it will mean for me and my children. Not knowing is the worst thing.

And Janice Collins from Lowestoft said: “Whatever decision is made, I just hope they get on with it. This could make a really big difference to my son, who is six, but it might not if this change doesn't happen. It's really important and I just don't like the way it's all up in the air at the moment.”