Hope in fight for middle schools

Wednesday, 10 January, 2007

PARENTS fighting plans for a radical shake-up of Suffolk's education system have been urged not to give up hope after plans for similar changes in another county were scrapped at the eleventh hour.

All 40 of Suffolk's middle schools face the axe over the county council's controversial proposal to do away with the current three-tier structure.

The suggestion sparked fury amongst teachers and parents throughout the county amid fears such a dramatic alteration would have a severe impact on children.

But despite fears the move to a two-tier system was a forgone conclusion, campaigners have been urged to take encouragement from a failed bid to implement the same changes in Bedfordshire by its county council.

Fighting the plans last year, a chair of governors at Bedfordshire school even used evidence compiled in Suffolk to highlight the success of the three-tier structure, and said a vote for a two-tier system would disadvantage many plans.

Steve Cowper, spokesman for Parents Against Change (PAC), said last night he hoped the outcome of the Bedfordshire proposal - which was recommended for approval by cabinet members before being scrapped by full council - would give confidence to parents who fear the battle against Suffolk County Council is already lost.

'Bedfordshire County Council realised what the change would mean for parents and children, which is great news for us because it means there is still hope,' said Mr Cowper, who help organised 12 meetings held throughout the county on Monday night to discuss the council's plans.

'As parents we do not think a move to a two-tier system is the right way forward, and it would have a seriously detrimental effect on pupils.'

Mr Cowper, who has three children currently going through Suffolk's three-tier schooling system, said around 1,000 people attended the PAC meetings, to show their support for the campaign against the shake-up.

'We do not think the council realises how angry people are, and we want parents and teachers to realise they really can make a difference, and that by making the council sit up and listen, we can get this turned around,' he said.

Earlier this week it was revealed the changes to the school structure would cost taxpayers a staggering £23million - a figure that is higher than the total cuts outlined by the county council in its 2007-8 budget.

David Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds, last night called on Patricia O'Brien, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for children, schools and young people's services, to a meeting at the House of Commons tomorrow to discuss the School Organisation Review.

'I want to get Cllr O'Brien thinking on how she expects to deliver this change without causing job losses and damaging closures of facilities,' he said.