The Department for Education has withdrawn its approval for a new free school to open in Bury St Edmunds this September.
The Bury St Edmunds All-Through Trust received initial approval in March to open the free school as a 400 place middle phase campus to meet a demand for places.
However, following a legal challenge by Suffolk County Council and a warning by headteachers in the Bury Schools Partnership that good and outstanding schools could close, Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan has withdrawn her decision for the school to open in September 2016.
The Trust was given permission to open the middle phase in September 2017 on the site of County Upper School, in Beeton’s Way, but would have temporarily accommodated pupils in the new middle phase at Tollgate Primary School from September.
A question mark remains as to whether the middle phase will open from 2017 onwards.
The county council feared the plans would have ‘jeopardised and undermined’ its efforts to move to two tier education in the town, which includes opening the new Sybil Andrews Academy in September.
As part of their proposals for the new middle phase, the Academy Trust plans to build a new County Upper School on the site of Westley Middle School, in Oliver Road. Westley Middle is to remain at the site.
The current County Upper site would also house the trust’s new technical academy, which is still on track to open in September 2017.
Cllr Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education, said: “I’m very encouraged to hear that the Secretary of State has withdrawn her approval.
“It is vitally important that the range and type of education works for all our children in Bury and I look forward to working with the DfE and all the schools in the town including the Bury St Edmunds All-Through Trust and the Bury Schools Partnership to ensure the very best provision is made available for young people in Bury.
“The development of this new free middle school would have jeopardised and undermined our efforts to move towards a two tier education system for the town, which we have successfully been working towards over the last few years with great support and encouragement from many local schools throughout the Bury area.
“We were very robust in our representations to the Secretary of State to explain that the town is already well served with many good and outstanding schools able to meet the local education needs for young people.”
When asked whether the middle phase could open from 2017 onwards, the DfE pointed to a statement issued by the county council that ‘all parties will be holding discussions on how the All-Through Trust’s proposals for all-through education could best serve the children of Bury within the context of Suffolk County Council’s recent reorganisation of other provision in the town’.
Sue Herriott, chair of the Bury Schools Partnership, welcomed the Secretary of State’s decision and said they would continue to oppose any further plans for the new middle campus.
She said: “We’re pleased that the Secretary of State for Education has reversed her decision regarding the proposed new free middle school in Bury St. Edmunds, in response to the very strong concerns we raised as headteachers, along with Suffolk County Council, the Diocese of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich, school governors, parents and members of the local community.
“The original proposal to create a new middle school was baffling. It undermined our long-standing commitment to raising standards through strong primary school provision.
“The news provides an excellent opportunity for the All-Through Trust and the Bury Schools Partnership to work together on behalf of all children, irrespective of their backgrounds, across all the schools in Bury St. Edmunds and its surrounding villages.
“Headteachers and governors of Bury Schools Partnership schools look forward to the full implementation of School Organisation Review and the move to two-tier education in September 2016.
“Headteachers in the Partnership will continue to work collaboratively to provide the very best opportunities for all pupils”.
Dr Richard Fletcher, chairman of the All-Through Trust, said: “Whilst the Trust is naturally disappointed that it has not proved possible to open in 2016, we are delighted that the technical academy plans are still on track and we are pleased to be able to work with the Department of Education and Suffolk Council to ensure we have all the places that are needed in our All-Through Trust.
“We received over 300 responses to our recent consultation and these were roughly 10 to 1 in favour of our plans.”