Mixed verdict on Bury All-Through Trust’s plans for Howard Primary School

Howard Community Primary School, 'Beard Road. 'Picture: Mark Westley.
Howard Community Primary School, 'Beard Road. 'Picture: Mark Westley.

Plans by the Bury St Edmunds All-Through Trust to run Howard Community Primary School came under fire at a heated public meeting.

Representatives from the trust were invited by community leader Ernie Broom to take questions on their vision for the school, in Beard Road, at a meeting last Friday.

Howard Primary has to join an academy trust after it was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted last year and the Department for Education’s preferred sponsor is the Cambridgeshire-based Chilford Hundred Education Trust (CHET).

Laying out an alternative, Vicky Neale, head of County Upper School and lead head for the trust, said they would take children from reception to Year 8 at Howard Primary and pupils could then choose between County Upper or its new STEM Academy.

The trust would ‘adapt’ the site so it can offer a ‘middle phase curriculum’ and take Tollgate Primary pupils from Year 5.

However, the plans received a mixed response at the meeting, attended by 88 people at Newbury Community Centre, with concerns raised that the trust running both Howard and Tollgate would limit choice for parents on the Howard estate.

They also feared it would cause ‘disruption and massive problems for children already in a struggling school’.

Among a number of people who addressed the trust, one woman said: “To me it seems like it’s just a building to you. You don’t seem passionate about it.”

Mrs Neale said: “If that’s how I’ve come across I would apologise because I’ve served this estate for 25 years and I feel privileged to serve it.”

Asked how they would improve education, Mrs Neale said they had a headteacher ready to start, a ‘varied and imaginative curriculum’ and a ‘strong assessment system’.

Another woman said if it wasn’t for the trust, choices in the area would be ‘far more limited’ and all of the middle schools would have gone.

After the meeting, Mr Broom, chairman of Howard Estate Association of Residents and Tenants, said he had thought the meeting would have welcomed the trust’s offer and hoped the schools could still work together.

Ian Cox, trustee and chairman of governors at County Upper, said: “The meeting was called by community leaders to hear the views of the whole community and so it was a shame that after the meeting so many people said they had felt unable to contribute because of a very small vocal minority.”

He added that a large majority of response forms favoured the All-Through Trust and he hoped the Regional Schools Commissioner takes this into account.

Toby Slater Robins, chairman of governors at Howard, said he respected the ambition of the prospective sponsors but ‘it is now time to look forward and focus on implementing the DfE’s decision’.

He added that working positively with CHET is in the ‘best interests of our children and families, as well as the wider community’.

Views can be made to the Commissioner until February 19.