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Middle school abolition plan in chaos

PUBLISHED: 10:41 15 September 2009 | UPDATED: 08:31 01 August 2010

PLANS to scrap Suffolk's middle schools have been thrown into turmoil because of uncertainty whether the county council will receive millions of pounds in grants previously promised by the government.

PLANS to scrap Suffolk's middle schools have been thrown into turmoil because of uncertainty whether the county council will receive millions of pounds in grants previously promised by the government.

It means education chiefs will not go-ahead with the controversial reorganisation in Bury St Edmunds, Stowmarket, Needham Market, Bacton, Stanton, Blackbourne and Thurston in 2011 unless they receive an assurance they will get the money.

However, because some of the estimated £22million for the phased project has been received, middle schools are still doomed in Lowestoft, Haverhill, Beccles, Bungay, Leiston, Halesworth and Newmarket and the county council expects to proceed with changes in Great Cornard and Sudbury.

The decision to move the whole county to a primary and secondary school system by phasing out 40 middle schools was greeted with opposition from councillors, teachers and parents. A number of Conservative county councillors who lost their seats in June put the blame on the schools plan.

Following a marathon debate in 2007, the county council voted to give its approval for the changes and was assured by central government it would receive funding for the project from the Building Schools for the Future project to pay for the enlarging of secondary schools to take extra pupils in the 11-13 age range.

Cash was also promised for the remodelling of primary schools which have to be enlarged to take pupils aged 9 to 11 who would no longer go to middle schools.

Graham Newman, portfolio holder for children, schools and young people's services, blamed education secretary Ed Balls for the chaos.

“We cannot be certain we will have the money from 2011 to go-ahead with the whole of the next phase.,” said Mr Newman. “Therefore, rather than go out to consultation with the public as we intended this autumn, I have taken the decision to put on hold most of the third phase of the project.

“We have not lost faith in our approach to middle schools and remain totally committed to completing the task. Educational achievement is still higher for pupils educated in a two-tier system over three-tier.

“However, the way in which the present government has mismanaged the economy means there is a public sector funding crisis coming, and we could well have less money for change programmes like this.

“Because the government cannot give us any certainty about levels of funding for future years, we feel that as a prudent and sensible council we have to reconsider the timeline for the remainder of the review.”

Mr Newman said: “Until we have more clarity on the future financial position, it would be irresponsible for us to make promises on what happens next and when.”

Andrew Stringer, the Green Party councillor who has been one of the leading figures in the fight to retain middle schools, said education in the Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket areas was now facing a crisis.

“We are left with the worst of all possible worlds - an exodus of teachers has already begun because of the changes, which means our children are facing the prospect of falling education standards.

“Two years' ago, we warned the county council not to proceed until it has a cast iron assurance that the money would be there to pay for it. We feared we were being led down a blind alley and, sadly, we have been proved right,” said Mr Stringer.

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