Planned shake-up of schools in the Biggleswade area set to be reviewed

"One part where we do need to progress immediately is to merge Potton Lower and Potton Middle"

By Euan Duncan, Local Democracy Reporter
Friday, 11th February 2022, 12:47 pm
Updated Friday, 11th February 2022, 12:48 pm
The change to a two-tier education system is being rolled out
The change to a two-tier education system is being rolled out

A review is to be held of a planned shake-up of school provision in the Biggleswade area to ensure the local education blueprint remains "viable and fit for purpose".

This analysis will consider the outcome of work by external consultant Edge around forecast growth for Central Bedfordshire, a meeting heard.

One of the aims is to establish the impact on Central Bedfordshire Council's Schools for the Future programme, according to a report to its executive.

It will also evaluate the feedback from a consultation for the Biggleswade cluster and feasibility study conclusions said the report.

The move towards a two-tier primary and secondary model of schooling to raise educational standards is being rolled out in phases by the local authority.

As part of the area's proposals, £14m towards a new secondary school for Biggleswade has been secured from the housing infrastructure fund (HIF).

Deputy council leader and Conservative Cranfield and Marston Moretaine councillor Sue Clark told the executive: "The consultation ran for 14 weeks from late June.

"Overall there was support for a long-term plan and a move to a two-tier education system," she said.

"But the reaction for individual schools was particularly varied, which hasn't followed a pattern with the consultations we've done before in other clusters.

"There was a relatively low response rate with 353 received. We need to consider these and review our proposals for Biggleswade further against the projected growth and the replies received.

"One part where we do need to progress immediately is to merge Potton Lower and Potton Middle to become a primary school by September 2023.

"The reason for this is we're experiencing falling pupil numbers in years seven and eight at Potton Middle School, which is affecting its viability because nearby clusters have changed their age ranges already.

"It's important we move forward and combine those two schools," added councillor Clark, who's also the executive member for families, education and children.

Conservative Heath and Reach councillor Mark Versallion said: "There was a strong collaboration across this cluster for the changes, the senior officers revealed. That should be highlighted to parents.

"It's not always the case with academies and maintained schools. There's quite often fragmentation, as we experienced a decade ago."

The executive agreed to authorise the move to statutory notice for the closure of Potton Middle, and a change of age range for Potton Lower to become a primary school for September 2023.

Consultation feedback showed strong support for the long-term plan with 96 per cent support, and for the schools to work together to coordinate change at 87 per cent, added the report to councillors.

"But individual school proposals need to be reviewed in greater details against all available information, including forecast growth, consultation responses, feasibilities and viability of proposals against the budget.

"It's planned to progress with some discrete elements of the cluster, based on feedback, and bring back a further paper for consideration of the remainder of the Biggleswade area.

"Caldecote CofE Academy, St Andrew’s CofE Lower School West, St Andrew’s CofE Lower School East and Northill CofE Academy all received 80 per cent plus support."

The largest number of responses were over Dunton CofE Lower and Wrestlingworth CofE Lower with 91 per cent support for them to convert to separate primary schools, rather than amalgamate on the Dunton site (four per cent) or relocate to land east of Biggleswade (five per cent).

Biggleswade cluster was viewed originally as an area of high projected growth, with a need to consider both the current educational landscape and future needs, as part of CBC's plans.