Plans for secondary free school in village

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A NEW secondary free school could be set up on the site of a threatened middle school as part of a switch to two tier education.

An option to establish a post-11 school at either Ixworth or Blackbourne middle schools is to be included in a consultation document on the overhaul of schooling in the Thurston area.

The plan, which has been supported by the Education Secretary Michael Gove, follows the rejection of bids by Ixworth and Beyton middle schools to become academies.

Suffolk County Council has agreed to allocate funding for the proposed restructure, which has been developed by a partnership of 17 primary schools in the area and Thurston Community College.

The move to set up a post-11 site – potentially as a free school – was revealed by West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock, who organised a meeting at Ixworth Middle School on Friday with primary school heads in his constituency, Suffolk County Council officers as well as district and parish councillors.

He and Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley also met Mr Gove two weeks ago to discuss the plan and ensure a smooth transition to two tier education.

Mr Hancock is now calling on people to support a parent-led campaign group for the post-11 school.

In an open letter, he said parents did not want the only secondary school option to be at Thurston Community College as pupils would be ‘forced to travel long distances’.

He added: “Mr Gove gave me the clear assurance that he, and the department, support the continuation of post-11 schooling at Ixworth or Stanton. I am sure that, with enough parental support, a post-11 school will be in place, so parents can make their own choice. I would urge you to support post-11 schooling in Ixworth or Stanton so that we can bring longed-for stability, high standards and certainty to the future of schooling in Suffolk.”

A free school is state funded but independent of local authority control and can be set up by parents, teachers and other groups.

Meanwhile, Thurston Community College could expand on the Beyton Middle School site as part of the education overhaul – a plan which is within the consultation document and supported by Mr Ruffley.

College principal Helen Wilson said: “There’s no reason why these two plans cannot run in harmony.”

Following the rejection of the academy bids, Robin Morley, chairman of governors at Beyton, said: “We’re disappointed by this decision but we want to take time to digest the implications before responding further. Our priority will remain the education of the children.”

Glenice Francis, head at Ixworth Middle School, said: “We are very disappointed. We felt that the academy route offered the best opportunity to provide stability and to maintain and improve educational standards for our current and future pupils. I have given a personal reassurance to parents that I will do everything in my power to maintain stability and to continue to offer the best education we can for their children.”

Governors at Blackbourne Middle School, in Stanton, had voted to seek academy status but head Philip Vigrass said it is ‘unlikely to be pursued’ in the wake of the failed applications .

The consultation document is expected to be released next week followed by a series of public meetings at schools across Thurston in the next two months.

To get involved in the campaign group for the post-11 school, contact Mr Hancock’s agent Paula Wade on (01638) 576692.

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