MP blasts 'guinea pig' schools plan

Waveney MP Bob Blizzard last night blasted plans to use Lowestoft as a "guinea pig" for the massive shake up of Suffolk's educational system.

Waveney MP Bob Blizzard last night blasted plans to use Lowestoft as a "guinea pig" for the massive shake up of Suffolk's educational system.

The proposals will see Suffolk's middle schools abolished under controversial £23m plans to introduce a county-wide system of primary and secondary education.

Lowestoft and Haverhill have been chosen to pioneer the changes, designed to bring the county in line with the rest of England, and could include the building of separate sixth form centres.

The two towns have been chosen because they have the highest levels of deprivation and lowest percentages of academic attainment and post-16 participation in the county.

Earlier this week it emerged that teachers' union NASUWT is in dispute over the council's plans and has warned that its members may strike unless it is fully consulted.

And last night Mr Blizzard criticised plans to use Lowestoft as a "guinea pig".

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"I think this is awful because the consultation carried out last year showed very clearly that people in Lowestoft are quite content with our middle schools," he said.

"There was fierce opposition to the decision to go ahead with the plans in spite of what people thought.

"I think people will be very angry about the decision to use Lowestoft as a guinea pig.

"The reorganisation of schools is a massive exercise. I think the teachers themselves will feel very concerned about what will happen to them, but my main concern is for the youngsters."

Next week's meeting of the county's cabinet will be asked to agree a four-year timetable for changes in the two towns.

By the start of the academic year 2011-2012, middle schools will close and pupils in years seven and eight will be transferred to high schools catering for the age range 11-16 or 11-18 "depending on the pattern agreed".

Suffolk currently has a hybrid system, a mixture of two-tier primary and secondary schools and three-tier primary, middle and secondary schools.

Opponents of middle school closures fear the county will use the shake-up as an excuse to introduce tertiary education in Suffolk - sixth form centres separate from high schools.

Beccles, Bungay, Leiston, Mildenhall and Newmarket will be the next towns to have their middle schools abolished in 2012-13, with Bury St Edmunds, Thurston, Sudbury and Stowmarket in the final batch in 2013-14.

Local consultations with parents and teachers in Lowestoft and Haverhill will begin this autumn, followed by the publication of statutory notices of closures and reorganisation in the spring of 2008.

Formal objections will be considered that summer by the county council with a final decision on the proposals being made in the autumn of 2008.

The total cost of the 13-year project to axe middle schools is estimated at £23m, which will cover the project team, staff training, early retirement and redundancy costs, setting up allowances and building work.

Estimated annual savings of £4.4m once middle schools have been replaced will be re-invested in education throughout the county.

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