Parents unite against Department for Education proposal to close Beck Row Academy
Beck Row’s only primary school could close with its 200 pupils being sent to Great Heath in Mildenhall, under a government scheme.
The Department for Education-run property firm LocatED is preparing a ‘pilot scheme’ that could see up to 20 UK school sites modified to free up land for thousands of homes.
“It would be catastrophic for the village,” said Edward Sekula, who has an eight-year-old son at Beck Row. “It is the focal point of the community and has been here for decades.”
Mr Sekula said he ‘found out by accident’ after a slide-show presented at the recentLocateED conference leaked to the press.
The presentation shows a ‘case study’ with an aerial image of Beck Row Primary Academy and its sister Great Heath Primary Academy, two miles away. Subsequent slides describe the challenge of relocating pupils and closing Beck Row. There is also an artist’s impression for a larger, redeveloped Great Heath. The Academy Transformation Trust (ATT), a national group which owns both schools, has now admitted to being in conversation with the government and last week sent a newsletter, which said chiefs were ‘exploring options available’.
The letter added that relocating Beck Row to Great Heath was not a ‘done deal,’ but the news has led to fury among parents. Sarah Mower, who has two children at the school, has started a petition called Save Beck Row School. At the time of writing, it had 1,345 signatures.
She said: “The support from parents, current and former, and those within the village has been overwhelming and a real testament to the value of the school within our community.
“The school is and has been an integral part of Beck Row for decades and I can understand and appreciate fully the shock and concern in the community regarding long term plans for relocation consideration.
“I have been assured as a parent that the level of community input will be taken into consideration and this proposal is barely past concept stage, but in the meantime we will continue to show our support for our school.”
Fellow parent Raye Hunter said: “I would be gutted if this happens. I chose Beck Row as I did not want my kids to go to a large, overcrowded school, which is what this would be.”
At the school gates, Beth Scales said she is concerned her daughter, who currently attends the pre-school, will be required to change school.
“This is not good news,” she said. “We have heard this would be in five years time. That would mean my daughter would then be in Year 4, so it could be disruptive. I wouldn’t want her to go on a coach because she is too young.”
Local councillors are also throwing their political weight behind the protest, with West Row Parish councillor John Smith sharing his fear this ‘could just be the beginning’ for schools being lost from villages. Louis Busuttil, county councillor for Mildenhall, added: “There is a need for schools where they are. They are thriving and well-managed. Closing Beck Row would only create a transport problem for families and the council.”
"The decision on how to proceed will always be the school and landowners choice.”
The Department for Education
ATT said: “Our priority is always what is best for the children. We are at an early stage of considering plans, but before any decision we are absolutely committed to a consultation.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The pilot scheme identifies opportunities for schools that have surplus land to rebuild or improve education facilities with significant condition issues. It will focus on areas of England which have a high housing need to explore if the surplus land can be released to contribute to the cross-government Public Land for Housing Programme.
"How individual projects will be delivered will be specific to the site. This work is still in its early stages, every potential site has a number of options being explored and none are yet confirmed. The decision on how to proceed will always be the school and landowners choice.”