Frustration over ‘lengthy delays’ to the Schools for the Future scheme has prompted a schools trust to write to Central Beds Council in an urgent appeal for updates.
BEST – Bedfordshire Schools Trust – has told the council that it expects an answer by today, when it says it will review its position and consider its next steps.
The letter calls for the council to agree and finalise plans for Shefford and Stotfold, reconfirm its commitment to its five pledges and commit to the two-tier transition taking place in September 2023 – or an alternative timeline agreed with the cluster.
Back on August 4, 2020, the council’s executive gave its public commitment to five pledges – upon which BEST’s support was conditional.
They included five-form primary provision as part of the new 0-18 all-through school that would bring together Robert Bloomfield and Samuel Whitbread Academies; provision for pupils from Robert Bloomfield Academy’s traditional feeder schools to gain entry to the secondary part of the all-through school; Campton Academy becoming a new build two form entry primary school; additional sixth form provision on the Samuel Whitbread and Etonbury/Pix Brook sites and developing a joint solution to all PFI-related issues on the Samuel Whitbread site.
The letter states: “As we represent around 65% of the students in the entire cluster and having consulted our parents and carers last summer, we also have the mandate of the communities we serve to see these pledges carried out.
“Despite working with CBC trying to develop the cluster plans, progress since last summer has been slow. Then, out of the blue, an email sent by the Chief Executive of CBC on 5 August, 2021, informed headteachers that plans for the second phase of the cluster were being paused and “recalibrated against growth”.
“With school leaders under the impression that an update would be provided by the October half-term, the only communication was a further email from the Chief Executive on 11 October, 2021.
“This gave no more detail other than stating “a significant amount of work” was still required on the plans, and indicating CBC might be in a position to give more details by the end of the calendar year.
“This delay is in sharp contrast to the extraordinary speed and generosity granted to other academies in our cluster already converted under two-tier.”
A council spokesperson said: “Improving educational attainment remains one of our top priorities. Having the right schools in the right places is part of achieving this, as is the move towards the two-tier educational system. Working in collaboration with our schools and partner Academies and Multi-Academy Trusts, such as BEST, is essential to make this change.
“The plans for the Shefford and Stotfold area were last year separated into two phases of work following feedback from a public consultation.
"This has meant that the transition to two-tier education has already taken place in September, with Henlow Church of England Academy becoming a secondary school, while its feeder schools Langford, Derwent, Clifton, All Saints, Meppershall and Raynsford are all now primary schools.
“As Central Bedfordshire is an area of high growth, we also need to ensure we have enough school places to meet future demand. Now the Local Plan has been adopted we have greater certainty about where the growth will be and at what scale. Therefore, we are now realigning our Schools for the Future plans with this longer-term growth.”