End of an era as schools set to close in Lowestoft

THOUSANDS of children and staff are preparing for an end of an era next week as eight of Lowestoft's middle schools close for good under controversial changes to the town's education system.

The schools are all closing as part of the county council's Schools Organisation Review (SOR), which prompted campaigns and protests in the town when it was first unveiled five years ago.

But although they have long since known their fate, staff said this week that amid the sadness there was still great anger about how the closures had been handled, and resentment that many teachers had not found new jobs.

A governor at one of the middle schools wrote to The Journal, saying: 'It's just so sad – people don't realise how it is affecting a lot of locals, and all the offshoots that come with it. Some teachers and staff still do not have jobs to go to in September, despite applying for positions which have, in certain cases, attracted a great many applicants.

'Some headteachers are also without posts to go to in September.'

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Paul Goodings, a parent whose children have attended Roman Hill Middle, told The Journal: 'I feel very strongly about such a superb school being forced to close under Suffolk County Council's schools reorganisation. I find it upsetting that Mr Herod, the school's head, has yet to be offered a position at another school. This man has completely turned the school around in the time that he has been there. I find it an absolute travesty.'

The eight middle schools affected – Elm Tree, Foxborough, Gisleham, Harris, Kirkley, Lothingland in Lound, Pakefield and Roman Hill Middle – have all been gearing up for closure over recent weeks as part of the move from a three-tier to two-tier (primary/high) education system in the Lowestoft area.

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In 2006, following the announcement of the SOR, The Journal launched a Save Our Schools campaign which generated widespread support from parents, teaching staff and unions, and attracted thousands of signatures on petitions. Demonstrations by the local Parents Against Change group were also held.

But, despite the tide of opposition, county councillors voted to approve the SOR for Lowestoft in 2009 saying the proposals were designed 'to improve standards of education' across Suffolk.

In recent weeks, the schools have all been busy organising events, reunions and special visits to mark their closure.

However, some teachers and parents say the changes have created have created an air of sadness and uncertainty.

Gillian Williams, headteacher at Elm Tree Middle, told the Journal: 'As the school comes to the end of its 39 years of existence those of us who are still working here are tinged with the feeling of sadness at its demise. Staff still at the school have continued to demonstrate their professionalism for the benefit of their pupils even at this time of great change. We have focused on the pupils ensuring that they leave with high achievements and happy memories.'

At Elm Tree Middle, each year group has had its own trip out – Years 7 and 8 to Pleasurewood Hills and Year 6 to Gressenhall. It has also hosted a leavers' party, an awards evening, and talent and fashion shows.

'Despite everything which has been going on (part of the school is already closed and is now occupied by builders), we are celebrating the best SATs results Elm Tree Middle School has achieved for several years and that is thanks to the hardwork of both the pupils and the staff,' Mrs Williams added.

On Thursday, a wine and cheese event has been organised for all past and present staff to celebrate the life of the school. 'Pupils and staff are united in their feeling of apprehension and excitement of moving on to something new, although sadly, at the time of writing, 80pc of the staff still have no job for September,' Mrs Williams added.

The other schools have also been busy marking their final term.

At Gisleham Middle, a concert took place last week and an Olympics themed fun event will take place next week; Pakefield Middle has created its Pakefield Memories Magazine which is now on sale, and Harris Middle in Church Road is inviting former staff and pupils to an event tomorrow which will 'commemorate the closure of the school'. The event takes place from 11am to 2pm and there will be a photo gallery, entertainment and light refreshments.

As part of the changes, pupils in the new year seven and year eight intake at Denes High School will be based at the former Harris Middle site for a year as it becomes the new Denes Lower School. Thes site will also cater for youngsters from St Margaret's Primary School, who will use the 'upper school' grounds

Denes new lower school head David Lees said: 'This year will be unique ...The school goes from having 850 pupils to over 1100. It is a new start and its really exciting. For the first time in the school's 100-year history we won't have a sixth form, but we will cater for pupils from year seven to 11,' Mr Lees added. 'Our �2m building project starts in July and by September 2012 everyone will be together using improved facilities on one site at Denes High.'

While seven of the eight school sites will be catering for primary and high school pupils from September, the future of the Lothingland Middle School site in Lound is still unclear, despite consultations being held last year.

A Suffolk County Council spokesman said: 'During last summer the county council ran a three month public consultation to identify any interest from local groups to take over the site for a community activity. Expressions of interest from local groups are currently being considered in detail, with discussions ongoing.'

Under the SOR, the county council is reorganising more than 130 schools across Suffolk – but after being launched in Lowestoft it has run into difficulties and delays elsewhere in the county.

A council spokesman said: 'As well as investing over �100m in school buildings, we are providing staff with training and are putting in place special arrangements to support children when they change school. 'The council remains committed to removing barriers to children's progress in the three-tier system, and to improving attainment in all Suffolk schools.'

• Postbox – see pages 20, 21

• What do you think about the Schools reorganisation in Lowestoft and the decision to close the town's middle schools? Write to Postbox, The Journal, 147, London Road North, Lowestoft, NR32 1NB or e-mail max.bennett@archant.co.uk including your full name, address and telephone numbers for queries.

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