Council backing two tiers

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The future’s bright, the future’s two-tier primary and secondary education.

For Central Bedfordshire pupils that is considered the best way forward, as the council explores options to tackle extensive growth in the region.

With a proportion of its schools still within a three-tier structure, there’s a cautious approach on the part of Central Bedfordshire Council to fully commit to the two-tier structure at this stage.

But a report to a meeting of its executive said the council will “actively promote that any new schools to be built will be primary or secondary”.

And the local authority vows “to support schools and clusters that want to work towards a primary and secondary model”.

There are eight cluster areas in Central Bedfordshire including Biggleswade, Sandy, and Shefford and Stotfold.

“The challenge we face is up to 43,000 new homes in the area by 2035,” according to Stotfold and Langford councillor Steve Dixon.

“For the next five years, it will be something just shy of 10,000 new school places against a current capacity of just under 42,000, so a fairly substantial increase.

“That’s in the order of seven new secondary or 18 new primary schools,” he told Tuesday’s executive meeting.

The aim is to “facilitate, not to dictate,” according to Cllr Dixon, executive member for families, education and children.

Historically, Central Bedfordshire has operated a three-tier model of lower, middle and upper schools.

But a council statement said: “Schools have had more freedom to convert to academies in recent years, which are run by trusts and not the local authority.

“They can change their age ranges with more becoming primary and secondary. However, uncoordinated change can affect the viability of other schools in the local area,” according to the statement.

“So, the council has been working collaboratively with all Central Bedfordshire schools and the Department for Education to understand what will be required up until 2035.”

Silsoe and Shillington Cllr Alison Graham told the meeting: “If a cluster wants to work towards whatever, what happens if there’s disunity within the cluster?” she asked.

“What happens if the village schools wish to remain lower schools because they don’t fancy four-year-olds being bussed away to larger conurbations?

“There are enormous values to the local schools in terms of their communities,” explained councillor Graham.

But she questioned the feasibility of schools to convert their structure, saying: “My local lower school couldn’t begin to pay for its extensions.

Cllr Dixon admitted he doesn’t know what the cost will be at this stage, or what specific requests will be made by clusters.

Arlesey Cllr Ian Dalgarno said there was one area lacking, as there wasn’t much about special needs education provision.

But Cllr Dixon replied: “We are looking at enhanced SEND provision going forward.”

The executive unanimously approved the plan to “actively promote that any new schools will be primary or secondary” and “to support schools and clusters that want to work towards a primary and secondary model”.