Union brands school consultation a sham

A TEACHING union last night questioned the legality of a controversial decision to axe Lowestoft's middle schools after branding the consultation process a “sham”.

A TEACHING union last night questioned the legality of a controversial decision to axe Lowestoft's middle schools after branding the consultation process a “sham”.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) launched an attack on Suffolk County Council after tabling formal objections to statutory notice to close the Lowestoft area's middle schools.

Union bosses claim the council did not properly consider alternatives to its school reorganisation plans and pointed to a case in Northumberland where parents succeeded in a judicial review against their local council. In 2006, a High Court judge ordered Northumberland County Council to carry out more consultation over its plans to move to a two-tier system of education.

A statement released yesterday by the Suffolk branch of the NUT said: “The union says that the so-called 'stakeholder consultation' process has been a sham throughout and that unions, teachers, parents and students have never been given a genuine chance to have their opinions taken seriously.”

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Suffolk County Council voted in favour of moving to a two-tier system of education across the county in a bid to raise standards and Lowestoft's middle schools will be the first in the county to close from 2011.

The statutory notice confirming the proposals to shut the town's middle schools and build a new high school on the site of the existing Pakefield Middle School was published last month.

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The NUT has also claimed that plans to shut the sixth forms at the town's three high schools and replace them with one new centre based at Lowestoft College were not contained in the council's original consultation document.

Martin Goold, the NUT's assistant county secretary in Suffolk, said: “It is clear that Suffolk County Council has committed the same legal errors as Northumberland. The plain fact is that the people of Lowestoft have never had the chance to put forward alternative proposals, including the status quo.”

Mr Goold said the NUT's alternative plans were to maintain the middle schools to teach the 11-13 age groups, giving the high schools more flexibility to deliver the curriculum for 14 to 19-year-olds. He added there were no current plans for the NUT to seek a judicial review, but said such a course of action could be open to parents' groups.

Patricia O'Brien, the county councillor in charge of the reorganisation, said: “Public consultation took place before the county council took this decision. Throughout the school organisation school review process, the county council has followed guidance from the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and taken legal advice to ensure everything was done correctly.”

Mrs O'Brien added that there had also been a 12-week consultation period on the Lowestoft proposals in which more than 3,000 people returned a questionnaire or attended a number of public meetings.

She said there was strong support for a new secondary school and sixth form centre, the latter of which was proposed by the three existing high schools, Lowestoft College and other partners.

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