Parent power bid to save middle schools

STEPHEN PULLINGER Nearly 200 placard-waving parents, teachers and children from all parts of Suffolk took part in a rally on Lowestoft seafront to protest against plans to abolish the county's middle schools.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

Nearly 200 placard-waving parents, teachers and children from all parts of Suffolk took part in a rally on Lowestoft seafront to protest against plans to abolish the county's middle schools.

They were joined on Royal Green by Waveney MP Bob Blizzard who was cheered as he spoke in defence of middle schools.

Saturday's noon demonstration had 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 it considers the proposal next month.

Although most areas of the country already have a system where pupils transfer to high school at 11, and parents lost the battle to save the last middle schools in Norfolk four years ago, local Pac organiser Malcolm Gibbs is buoyed by the fact parent power helped to save middle schools in Bedfordshire.

Mr Gibbs, who has three children under the age of 11, said: “These proposals would rip the soul out of Lowestoft. Our middle schools work well, not just providing a good education but also a nurturing environment to develop the child's understanding and confidence to learn in the world through themselves and through others.

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“They are little girls and boys when they enter middle school, but they come out at 13 as young adults, far better able to cope with the demands of high school than they would be if they went there at 11.”

Mr Gibbs, whose eldest child Lorna, 10, attends Pakefield Middle School, in Lowestoft, said parents were not interested in the council's claim that pupils achieved better key stage 2 results in a two-tier system, they were far more concerned with the all-round development of the child - in any case, evidence showed middle school pupils bridging the gap when they reached high school.

Mark Cresswell, the head of Pakefield Middle School, said: “The impact of changing systems over the next 10 years will be colossal and I don't feel parents have been fully consulted.

“Living near Diss, my daughter is in the two-tier system and I know the issues she faces at secondary school. There is nothing like the pastoral care they get at middle school, which gives them an extra two years of being children. Youngsters her age are not mature enough to deal with the pressures from 17 and 18-year-olds. She travels 10 miles on the bus and I know there are older pupils smoking, drinking and swearing.”

Mr Cresswell said it was already difficult to recruit excellent teachers in Lowestoft, and if they started to leave because of uncertainty over the future and the effect change would have on morale, that would be disastrous.

He said while the council argued better A to C grade GCSEs came out of a two-tier system, the results for a three-tier system were better if you considered A to G grades.

“The council seems to be focusing on a drive for the top end but we are interested in keeping inclusive schools that work better in socially deprived areas and for pupils with special needs,” he said.

Peter Byatt, the Lowestoft secretary for the NUT, said members were not opposed to progress but felt that information had not reached the public adequately and that all voters in the county should be asked their view.

Mr Blizzard said: “I know that quality of teaching, school leadership and discipline are for more important than structure. I visit all the schools in my constituency and see a lot of good work going on so I can fully understand why parents are here protesting.”

He said it would cost between £23m and £50m to bring about reorganisation, and he was sure there were “far more productive ways of spending it”.