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'We will be ready' - Under-fire council

PUBLISHED: 10:17 30 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:12 06 July 2010

CONTROVERSIAL moves to fast-track changes to Lowestoft's education system have come under growing criticism this week as angry parents and teachers hit out at a 'lack on consultation' and the potential disruption for pupils.

CONTROVERSIAL moves to fast-track changes to Lowestoft's education system have come under growing criticism this week as angry parents and teachers hit out at a 'lack on consultation' and the potential disruption for pupils.

Suffolk County Council is changing the county's education system from three to two tiers, and Lowestoft's middle schools are going to be among the first to close in September 2011.

However, The Journal revealed last week that Year Seven and Eight pupils from Kirkley and Elm Tree Middle Schools will now be going to Kirkley High School this September - a year earlier than planned.

This week, the county council sought to defend its plans - saying its hand had been forced, and that there were benefits in making the exchanges sooner rather than later.

But parents and teaching staff have contacted the Journal to express their dismay at the moves.

Suffolk NUT secretary Graham White said he had also been contacted by union members.

“It seems to be very uncertain about teachers' jobs and very uncertain for the pupils. Staff are already extremely stressed by the whole situation and this is only going to add to that,” he said.

Earlier this week, the council held a meeting in an effort to explain the changes to parents.

Joanne Bird, whose daughter is at Elm Tree Middle school and will have to go to Kirkley High from September, went to the meeting.

She said: “My main concern is about safety. Kirkley High is about three miles from our home and as I have children at another school, my daughter, who' only 11, will have to walk or cycle there by herself.

“I've had no time to prepare her for the move. We've not had any choice or any say in this.”

Under the revised plans unveiled by the county council, Year Seven and Eight pupils at Elm Tree and Kirkley middles will move to Kirkley High School at the start of the autumn term.

From September, there will be no sixth form at Kirkley High, and this will leave space for half of the children from the two feeder middle schools to be taught on the site, although they will still officially be registered with their middle schools.

Meanwhile, 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, but the youngsters may still be taught in the existing middle school buildings.

One middle school teacher, who asked not to be named, told the Journal this week: “Both Elm Tree and Kirkley Middle Schools have successfully come out of special measures, and staff will now be forced to work at the high school, which is still in special measures.

“No one from the county council has even bothered to talk to staff. No consultation what so ever has taken place with middle school staff.”

Mother-of-two Heidi Harker said: “The council needs to realise the scale of upset they are causing and evaluate each school individually and take the appropriate steps to ensure there is as little disruption to the children as possible.”

Another teacher said that uncertainty over the future of jobs is causing stress for staff. She told the Journal: “Staff still have no idea what the future holds for their careers - families, mortgages, homes all dangling on the desire of the county to save money.”

Graham Newman, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for children, schools and young people, defended the decision to move children this September.

He said: “The reason we are speeding up our plans is because the national body which funds all sixth form education - the Learning and Skills Council - has cut, by more than a third, its funding for Lowestoft's three school sixth forms from September.

“At the same time, the department for children, schools and families has urged the county council to speed up its plans for improving attainment at Key Stage 2 in Lowestoft. It is precisely because of these two decisions that we have been forced to reappraise our plans.”

He added: “Despite having our hand forced in this way, the county council has moved quickly with a plan of action. The headteachers are on board and, together with the continued exemplary commitment of our teachers, we will be ready for the new school year.

“In doing so, we have managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, finding a way to progress with these essential school improvements, and avoiding the kind of disruption that delays would have brought.”

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