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West Suffolk: Consultation begins on major changes to schools

PUBLISHED: 06:00 06 October 2011

PLANS for a major overhaul of education in part of west Suffolk - including the possibility of a new free school - have gone out to public consultation.

In the document the preferred future structure for schools in the Thurston area would see the closure of the three middle schools - Beyton, Ixworth and Blackbourne - as the area moves to a two-tier system of education.

The option is put forward for a free secondary school at the sites of either Ixworth in Ixworth or Blackbourne in Stanton following their closure and the vacant Beyton middle site would become a campus of Thurston Community College.

The Thurston Partnership - a group of the 17 primary schools in the area and the community college - was launched a few months ago to press ahead with two-tier education, which supporters believe will raise educational attainment for students.

Beyton and Ixworth submitted bids to become academies to prevent closure, but it has come to light that Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, has turned their applications down.

West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock, whose constituency includes Ixworth and Blackbourne middles, said he welcomed the proposals put forward for consultation.

He said his priority was to support the future of school children in west Suffolk, specifically to ensure the future of a school in Ixworth or Stanton, which he said was supported by Mr Gove.

“I am pleased with the tremendous progress already made and I will consult with constituents and keep up the pressure for a school in Ixworth or Stanton,” Mr Hancock said.

A free school is a school set up by groups of parents, teachers or others and it is funded directly by the Government.

Mr Hancock recently met with Mr Gove, alongside Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley, to press the case for a post-11 school in Ixworth or Stanton. Mr Ruffley added how they had pushed for a smooth transition to two-tier education, which would only be frustrated by the middles becoming academies.

Andrew Nicholson, headteacher at Beyton middle, had said the school was “very disappointed” their bid for academy status had been turned down, as well as for not receiving the backing of their MP, Mr Ruffley.

Glenice Francis, headteacher at Ixworth middle, had also expressed the school’s disappointment in having their application for academy status turned down. “We feel that the academy route offered the best opportunity to provide stability and maintain and improve educational standards for our current and future pupils,” she said.

A Suffolk County Council spokesman said any changes would not happen until at least September 2013 and would take at least a year to complete.

Speaking on behalf of the Thurston Partnership, Helen Wilson, principal of Thurston Community College, said: “We are delighted we are now able to openly discuss the detail of our proposal.”

She added how they were not saying individual schools are succeeding or failing, but were talking about a three-tier system not delivering as good an outcome as a two-tier system.

Graham Newman, county council cabinet member for children, schools and young people’s services, said: “We all remain convinced the best possible set-up is the national primary and secondary set-up. We are two thirds of the way through that in the county.”

To view the consultation booklet, which has been produced by Suffolk County Council working with the Thurston Partnership, visit www.thurstonpartnership.org or www.suffolk.gov.uk/sor. Along with this booklet parents and carers are also being sent a questionnaire, which will also be available on the county council’s website along with details of the public meetings. The consultation closes on December 9 this year.

The headteachers of the three middles were not available for comment on the consultation document yesterday as they were at meetings.


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