Shock at Suffolk schools reorganisation

CONTROVERSIAL plans to shake up Suffolk's education system were last night branded 'a total mess' amid further delays to school closures - but the county council insisted the project had not been derailed completely.

CONTROVERSIAL plans to shake up Suffolk's education system were last night branded 'a total mess' amid further delays to school closures - but the county council insisted the project had not been derailed completely.

Graham Newman, the council's portfolio holder for education, insisted that a decision to delay the consultation on middle schools in mid and west Suffolk was only a short delay to the proposals.

Suffolk County Council is currently working through a project to introduce a blanket two-tier system across the county, but the plans have been dogged by financial uncertainty, leaving teachers, parents and children in limbo.

Mr Newman said he hoped the reorganisation of the three-tier system stretching from Needham Market to Honington would still go ahead in 2014 and 2015.

But the consultation process had been delayed from the autumn until spring next year at the earliest because of the Government's spending review due to be published in October.

Mr Newman said: 'This is not a situation any one of us wants, nor is it a decision that has been taken lightly, but equally it is a sensible one given the financial circumstances which have become clear over the past few weeks.

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'The county council's commitment to the School Organisation Review has not changed, with more than two thirds of the review now under way.

'We will continue to work hard to improve standards for young people across the county and we will make the best use of all future funding to ensure this happens.'

He said by delaying the consultation process for the schools in the Stowmarket and Thurston area, other reorganisation projects - including those in the Sudbury area - would be able to go ahead as planned.

Concerns over the financing have already led to a delay in the implementation of changes in the Bury St Edmunds area which will not now go ahead until 2017 at the earliest.

Opposition children's spokeswoman Penny Otton, whose division is in the Stowmarket area and will be affected by the delay, said she was not surprised by the delay.

'We heard last night about the delay - and I know many of the schools feel this leaves them in limbo.

'There is a real danger that this will lead to more pressure for schools to look to become academies or free schools and effectively undermine the local education authority altogether.'

Her fears were echoed by Graham White, chairman of the Suffolk branch of the NUT.

He said: 'The situation that has now arisen is a total mess. The council doesn't seem to know what it is doing - but I must say this is what my members have been saying for months.

'I am very concerned that schools will find the uncertainty so unsettling that they feel the need to look towards going for academy or free school status and that will effectively undermine the local education authority fatally.'

Mr Newman acknowledged that the delay would increase uncertainty - but maintained that the proposals had to go ahead.

He said: 'All the statistics show that children in areas with two-tier schools systems do better than those where there are three tiers.

'What we have to do is get things sorted out in Suffolk - so we can attract teachers who know what their career paths will be in the county and know what the system will be.'

School changes:

Middle schools closing in 2011 - Lowestoft area: Foxborough, Gisleham, Elm Tree, Kirkley Middle, Lothingland.

Haverhill area: Castle Hill, Chalkestone, Clare, Parkway.

Middle schools closing in 2012 - Beccles area: Beccles, Worlingham.

Bungay area: Bungay, Halesworth.

Leiston area: Leiston, Saxmundham.

Newmarket: St Felix.

Middle schools closing in 2013 - Sudbury area: All Saints, Great Cornard, Stoke-by-Nayland, Uplands.

Middle schools due to close in 2014 - Stowmarket/Stowupland area: Combs, Stowmarket, Needham Market.

Middle schools due to close in 2015 - Thurston area: Bacton, Beyton, Blackbourne, Ixworth.

Middle schools due to close in 2017 or later - Bury St Edmunds area: Hardwick, Horringer Court, Howard, St James, St Louis RC, .

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