Headteacher refused permission to speak at schools meeting in Bury St Edmunds: Petition over Howard Middle School’s fate

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Denied a request to speak at a public meeting on changes to schools in Bury St Edmunds and twice denied an application to bring Howard Middle School into the Bury Academy Trust, Vicky Neale, set about putting the record straight last night.

The headteacher of County Upper School, and Richard Fletcher, chairman of both the Academy Trust and County Upper’s governors set out their vision for the middle school.

And it was enough to persuade parents and community leaders to start a petition for Howard Middle School to be reconsidered for joining the academy trust.

The meeting, organised by Suffolk County Council and held at Howard Middle School was to consult parents about some of the details of the £22 million switch from three tier to two tier education in Bury.

Greg Sadler, headteacher of Howard Middle opened the meeting.

“The governing body has been very active trying to secure the future of this school,” he said.

“The school tried to pursue academy status on two occasions.”

But he said after being refused the school had made the decision to join the Bury School Partnership, set up to smooth the transition to two tier education.

At a workshop held as part of the meeting Mr Fletcher told a small group of parents Howard Middle had always been at the heart of the academy trust plan.

“We was told that the county council wouldn’t support a town academy with Howard Middle because at that point of time it was thought Howard Middle School was going to be placed on special measures at its next Ofsted,” Mr Fletcher said.

He said they then asked the then headteacher of Howard Middle whether she wanted them to drop their academy bid or progress with the hope the middle school could join later – she opted for the latter.

He said the trust still wanted Howard Middle to be involved and would even prefer all of the schools in Bury to work to an all through school model.

“We would like Howard to be part of it and we will fight for it,” Mr Fletcher said.

Under the current changes County Upper will give preference to students from Westley and Horringer Court Middle Schools - both of which are part of the trust.

That will leave 60 spaces per year with preference to those who have siblings or who live close to the school.

Mr Fletcher outlined the reasons for County Upper setting up the trust. He said the school was too small to serve as a high school in the two tier model. It would of had to have used one of the empty middle schools for two of its year groups and operated as a split site, and felt it could better serve pupils as an all through school from four to 18.

“Tonight there has been a lot of poor information if not misinformation. Ms Neale had requested to talk to the meeting tonight and she was declined.

“It is not a done deal. If you feel strongly then make your voice heard,” Mr Fletcher said.

He added that County Upper had achieved not just outstanding results, but had also been rated as outstanding by Ofsted.

It is also the top state school in Suffolk for GCSE results.

Ernie Broom, chairman of the Howard Estate Association or Residents and Tenants, said: “I’ve spoken to hundreds of people – they say ‘We’d love to see an all through school system’ and I think that is what we deserve.”

Ms Neale said: “Ultimately it is the Secretary of State’s decision. If enough people want it then Suffolk (County Council) would have to listen. If they don’t listen then the consultation is a shame, a done deal.

“The Howard children seem to be disenfranchised from County Upper School – and it is your school.

“It is not our decision. It breaks my heart, its not our decision. Twice we have applied for this school to be part of the academy trust and Suffolk blocked it.”

A council officer confirmed The Department for Education said it would not consider any academy applications by schools going through the reorganisation.

One issue that seemed to be pushing more parents towards campaigning for the all through school was pupil numbers at King Edward VI School.

Under the two tier system that school will see its year groups cut from 350 to 220. The slack will be picked up by a new high school on Moreton Hall.

But parents were fearful that could result in youngsters from the Howard and Mildenhall Road estates having to catch a series of buses to the heavily congested Moreton Hall.

An officer from the county council said the authority had measured the distance from Howard and Tollgate Primary Schools to Moreton Hall earlier that day and confirmed it is over the three miles to qualify from free school transport.

But parents reacted angrily.

Emma Witcherley who has twins at Howard Middle said: “I think the council has already made its mind up. We are going to a two tier system. I’ll fight it because I don’t want my children to end up going up to Moreton Hall.”

The consultation is due to end in December with the county council cabinet to consider the results in February before a final decision in April.

After the meeting Ms Neale said: “I just wanted to put the record straight that right from when the academy trust was convened, Howard Middle was a full part of it. The head worked with the trust.

“I have worked with children on this estate for a long time.

“Its their (Suffolk County Council) meeting. I asked to speak and was refused. It is fair enough, it is their meeting and I accept that.

“It is a consultation and people need to make their views known.”

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said: “Moments before the beginning of the meeting, we were asked if the head of county upper could make a statement about the school’s independent admissions policy.

“On the basis that this was a consultation meeting to hear the views of parents on the current proposals for school organisation in the town, this request was declined.

“We have already had two other meetings and we wanted to keep the format consistent.

“During the meeting the head was introduced to parents and we offered to involve her in any response to questions about admissions to county upper following the meeting.

“This is how all detailed questions are being handled as part of this consultation.”