School shake-up prompts new talks

BEHIND-the-scenes talks between the Tory Shadow Government and Suffolk's school chiefs are taking place about how a major shake-up of education will be paid for if the promised funds fail to materialise.

BEHIND-the-scenes talks between the Tory Shadow Government and Suffolk's school chiefs are taking place about how a major shake-up of education will be paid for if the promised funds fail to materialise.

In recent weeks doubts have been voiced about how Suffolk County Council's school organisation review - which involves axing all 40 middle schools - will be delivered.

Last week the county council revealed phase three of the school organisation review - which includes Stowmarket, Stowupland, Thurston and Bury St Edmunds - would be delayed by up to four years.

But it has now emerged that the county council is working on contingency plans in case �750million of investment expected under the Government's Building Schools for the Future programme - which would pay for the extra school building works required in the county - is not forthcoming amid Whitehall belt tightening.

And asked whether the county council could guarantee the final phase of the review would go ahead in the current financial clime, its council's cabinet member for schools, Graham Newman, would not be drawn.

He said: “I am working with both the Local Government Association and the Conservative shadow education team to alert them of Suffolk's special needs when it comes to the school organisation review, and indeed the physical buildings we will need to achieve ultimate rationalisation with or without the Government's Building Schools for the Future programme.

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“We need to make these changes in support of our case for Building Schools for the Future, not as a consequence of it. Under the present business case arrangements we show that we are doing everything possible to raise attainment. The review may well ultimately secure an improvement of 6% in GCSE outcomes.”

Whilst he could not guarantee the final phase of the scheme would go ahead, Mr Newman said: “The county council remains 100% committed to the school organisation review. Although we're disappointed that we are no longer able to complete it within the original timescale, it does not remove the urgent need to address the achievement difference between the three and two-tier systems.”

Labour group schools spokesman Sandy Martin said he did not believe the Tory administration was entirely sure as to what it would do without the money.

“It would be much easier for them with a Labour Government,” he said. “We all know a Conservative Government will be cutting public spending.”

Mark Ereira, Green and Independent schools spokesman, said: “As the three-tier system works so exceptionally well in this particular part of Suffolk, with lots of high achieving students, the Green's policy suggested in 2005 for schools to federate, pulling talent, resources and leadership together, would appear to be even more compelling now and extremely cost effective.”

Penny Otton, Liberal Democrat schools spokeswoman on the council, said the current situation - with lengthy delays for those in mid and west Suffolk - had put parents, teachers and children in an “uncertain situation”.

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