Head’s views on two-tier switch

Hugh O'Neill Head Teacher at St Benidicts Catholic Upper School
Hugh O'Neill Head Teacher at St Benidicts Catholic Upper School

ONE of Hugh O’Neill’s guiding principles is ensuring a ‘viable and coherent system of Catholic education’.

For months though, parents, pupils and teachers have poured scorn on the Diocese of East Anglia’s proposals to change that system with a switch to two-tier education ahead of the rest of Bury St Edmunds and the closure of the ‘outstanding’ rated St Louis Middle School.

With statutory notices due to be published today, Mr O’Neill, of St Benedict’s Upper, has given his perspective on the plans.

He said: “All the other phases of re-organisation in Suffolk involving Catholic primary schools are continuing at the pace originally set – moving towards two-tier apart – from Bury. We are here to serve the whole of West Suffolk and the key priority for me is to try to keep a coherent Catholic system together.

“The middle school cannot continue as it was. It won’t have as many students because they will be staying with their primary schools in Haverhill, Newmarket and Sudbury.”

Under the plans, St Edmunds Primary and St Benedict’s Upper will expand to take pupils aged 4-11 and 11-18 respectively by 2013.

The Stop, Listen, Rethink campaign group wants to keep St Louis open though, and has argued that the move will hit standards. Mr O’Neill said: “The governors believe the possibilities from 2013 onwards are exciting and offer the chance of even better educational opportunities for Catholic and non-Catholic students.

“We owe a great deal to the excellent work and foundations laid in the primary and middle schools.”

St Benedict’s would become a split site with those in Years 7 and 8 based on the St Louis site. “We‘re working at the moment on an outline for a certain amount of movement between both sites. It’s important to establish a single school ethos. I would expect to be on both sites almost on an equal basis for the first two or three years at least.”

Mr O’Neill has shared with St Louis staff his wish to recruit as many Key Stage 3 teachers as possible. He anticipates needing about 15 teachers plus additional posts.

“We all have deep sympathy for the staff of St Louis because they face an uncertain future. That’s a very unfortunate and sad element of the changes that have to take place.”