Bury St Edmunds: Parents at St Louis Middle School criticise the Diocese of East Anglia after school rated outstanding by Ofsted closes
12:45 21 February 2014
Furious parents have blasted the diocese in charge of their children’s “outstanding” middle school and claimed it was given no option but to close.
Governors at St Louis Catholic Middle School in Bury St Edmunds took the decision to close it earlier this month, allowing the other two schools in the town’s Catholic pyramid - St Edmund’s Primary and St Benedict’s - to move to a two-tier system.
However, parents at the school have accused the Diocese of East Anglia of pressuring the only “outstanding” Catholic school in the town to close - to the detriment of students and against parents’ wishes.
The diocese said that the governing bodies of all six Catholic schools in west Suffolk had agreed the move to two-tier, and that it “recognised the long-standing achievements” of St Louis, which was given the top grade in every aspect by Ofsted in June.
In a letter to the EADT, PTA co-chairman Susanne White accused the diocese of applying “political pressure” to the school’s governing body.
She added: “This change is not about raising standards and doing what is best for the children - it’s about politics, structural conformity and the achievement of personal ambitions.
“I know of several families who will be removing their children from the Catholic schools as a result of this decision, and many others who will be reassessing the educational pathway for their children in the light of this planned change.
“It could be just a matter of time before this massive strategic blunder leads to the closure of St Benedict’s. Without visionary leadership recognising its best assets, the West Suffolk Catholic Pyramid could well stagnate and fail.”
The decision to close the school at the end of 2015/16 academic year was taken by a majority vote of the board of governors.
Two new governors - Dennis McGarry, a former Catholic high school headteacher, and Francis Watts, secretary of the St Edmund’s Catholic Parish in Bury - were appointed by the diocese in December.
Eamonn Coveney, a consultant at West Suffolk Hospital who has children at St Louis, was appointed by the diocese in January, bringing the number of governors eligible to vote to 17.
The diocese first announced plans to close St Louis and move to a two-tier system in 2011, reflecting the proposed changes in Suffolk County Council’s school organisation review (SOR).
However, an appeal by the school’s governors saw an adjudicator rule against the closure, branding the restructuring plans “mediocre”.
Parent Bernie Miller was one of the driving forces behind staving off the initial closure notice.
She said: “It is a sad day for this exceptional school, for the Ofsted ‘outstanding’ staff who will lose their jobs, and most importantly for those children who will be faced with a ‘mediocre’ alternative.
“In my opinion this proposal doesn’t seem very Catholic, Christian or moral, and it certainly doesn’t raise educational standards.
“When can it be justifiable to close an ‘outstanding’ school, the only ‘outstanding’ school in the Catholic pyramid, and replace it with a cramped primary on an already busy road and a split-site upper school, duplicating resources at great expense to the tax payer? This defies all logic and the diocese needs to be held to account.”
In her letter announcing the closure, chair of governors Siobhan Watson said the decision was based on consultation results and financial projections, including “probable expansion of St Edmund’s to teach years five and six, given the likely support of the diocese”.
She added: “At the centre of our deliberations was the future wellbeing and education of our children; we believe that the stability and cohesion within their schools and parishes will provide the best platform for their success.”
A spokeswoman from the diocese said the public consultation showed “strong support” for moving to two tier.
She added: “All governing bodies in the Catholic Pyramid have been able to consider the feedback received and all six governing bodies have decided to support the publication of notices that formally propose this organisational move.
“Given this level of support, and the fact that three primary schools in the pyramid are already two-tier, the diocese supports the governors’ decision.
“It does this whilst also recognising the long-standing achievements of St Louis Middle School.”