Warning over Suffolk schools revamp

The dying days of Suffolk's middle schools will be shorter than previously planned, with just a year when they have lower numbers of pupils. But there were warnings yesterday that children and teachers may leave areas where they know their middle schools are being axed in favour of those which have already made the change.

The dying days of Suffolk's middle schools will be shorter than previously planned, with just a year when they have lower numbers of pupils.

But there were warnings yesterday that children and teachers may leave areas where they know their middle schools are being axed in favour of those which have already made the change.

Suffolk county council's cabinet yesterday approved a timetable for change which starts with Lowestoft and Haverhill in 2010. The changes will be carried out in three phases, with Beccles. Bungay, Mildenhall and Newmarket a year later and Bury St Edmunds and Mid Suffolk a year after that. Other areas, such as Ipswich, already have the two-tier system of primary and secondary schools which the county council is imposing across the county despite protests from parents and middle school teachers.

Although the original timetable planned for two years of “ghost schools” when middle schools were operating with only a fraction of their usual pupils, now this will last just a year. In the original timetable, in the second year of change some middle schools would have had just two year groups. Now children will stay at primary school a year later, to year five, in the first year of change. In the second year of change they will stay at primary school until year six, and years seven and eight will go straight into secondary schools, though in some cases they will stay on the same site as a “lower school unit”.

Blything councillor Rae Leighton told yesterday's cabinet: “There is likely to be leaching, some might say haemorrhaging, or pupils and staff before they change over from a three-tier to a two tier system.”

Patricia O'Brien, portfolio holder for schools, said Suffolk was too large to change the system everywhere at the same time. “We know it is a delicate situation. It is vital to keep children and parents on side.”

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But Mrs O'Brien said outside the meeting that Lowestoft and Haverhill should go first because the areas are most deprived and have lowest educational standards.

The process is due to be finished across the county by 2015, at a cost of £23m. The council says efficiency savings of £4m a year will be made after that.

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