Council backtracks on schools change

Hayley MaceControversial plans to fast track the first stages of Lowestoft's schools shake-up have been scrapped because of legal issues surrounding the timings of the school day.Hayley Mace

Controversial plans to fast track the first stages of Lowestoft's schools shake-up have been scrapped because of legal issues surrounding the timings of the school day.

Suffolk County Council, which is changing the county's education system from three to two tiers, announced three weeks ago that Year Seven and Eight pupils from two middle schools would be going to high school this September - a year earlier than planned.

Now the council has revoked its plans to move youngsters from Elm Tree and Kirkley Middle Schools to Kirkley High Schools this year because it would have needed legal permission for the pupils to start and finish school at a different time.

The plan came about because sixth formers are no longer going to be taught at Kirkley High School, creating space for some children to move up earlier than planned, but the decision was heavily criticised by parents, teachers and union representatives, who claimed that there was not enough time for staff and pupils to adjust by September.

Graham Newman, the council's portfolio holder for children, schools and young people's services, said: 'We had some difficulties regarding legal issues to change the times of the school day, and we would have had to give a lot more notice than we could do to change it by September.

'A lot of people were also concerned that consultation had been minimal, and a lot of people said that it was a step too far to move the children on to the high school campus just because the space was available, and we now realise that.

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'We want the transition for the pupils to be smooth and polished, and in the cold light of day these issues have come forward and so they will move next September as originally planned.'

Kirkley High School headteacher Richard Pickard said: 'We've done a lot of work with parents of the current Year Six and Seven pupils at Kirkley and Elm Tree Middle Schools over the past couple of weeks to structure our concerns and present them to the local authority.

'I would really like to thank the parents for taking the time to come and do that, and I'd like to reassure them that we can now work together over the coming year to make the transition as smooth as possible in September 2011.'

Peter Byatt, secretary of the Lowestoft branch of the National Union of Teachers, said: 'It is a great relief for teachers in the two middle schools and at Kirkley High that the local authority has reviewed the situation and decided that it is widest to delay things given the fact that they would not have had enough time to see through the legal process.'

The change in sixth form teaching will go ahead, with students either attending the Denes or Benjamin Britten High Schools, and

the responsibility for teaching Year Five and Six children from Elm Tree and Kirkley Middle Schools will pass down to Fen Park and Elm Tree primary schools, although they may still be taught in the middle school buildings.