'Major' shake up for Biggleswade schools as plans propose transition from three to two tier system

Central Bedfordshire Council has published a paper that proposes changes for areas including Potton, Biggleswade, Dunton and Wrestlingworth

Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 3:53 pm
Updated Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 3:54 pm

A "major" shake up looks set for schools in Chronicle country as plans are afoot for the transition from the three tier to two tier system.

Central Bedfordshire Council has published a paper that proposes changes for areas including Potton, Biggleswade, Dunton and Wrestlingworth, which would see many institutions transition to either primary or secondary providers, with the lower, middle and upper school model scrapped.

However, the news has not been welcomed by everyone, as a petition against changes to Dunton and Wrestlingworth lower schools was already sent to Central Beds Council, while local politicians have raised concerns.

Stratton Upper School. Credit: Stratton Upper School.

CBC Cllr Dr Hayley Whitaker, of Biggleswade South ward, claimed: "The move from three tier to two tier schooling will be a massive upheaval for Biggleswade, but it is a change that will reduce the number of disruptive school changes for children and bring the region in line with most of the country. However, the plans are very confusing and I have already expressed concerns to CBC that they appear premature as many aspects remain unclear or are still under discussion.

"At the centre of the changes is the move of Edward Peake School to a new secondary school to be built on the land East of Biggleswade (north of Dunton Lane) using money from the Housing Infrastructure Fund and S106 contributions from housing developments that have yet to be granted planning permission. To me this seems like a huge gamble as these things don't always go to plan."

Central Beds and Potton Town Cllr, Adam Zerny, told the Chronicle: "These changes will have far reaching effects on the lives of many families.

"The schools in Potton, Dunton, Wrestlingworth and Sutton are vital to these communities and we must defend them. We already know Dunton and Wrestlingworth schools are under threat and I will be keeping a very close eye on this consultation."

Schools affected include Northill CE Academy, St Andrews CofE VC Lower School, Lawnside Academy, Edward Peake Middle School, Biggleswade Academy, Stratton Upper School, Potton Federation (Potton Lower and Potton Middle Schools), Wrestlingworth CofE VC Lower School, Sutton V.A. Lower School, Dunton Church of England VC Lower, and Caldecote CE Academy.

The CBC paper proposes: lower schools converting to primaries; Potton Lower and Potton Middle amalgamating and transitioning to primary for 2022/23; Lawnside Academy moving into the vacated Edward Peake Middle School site; Biggleswade Academy converting to primary; and Edward Peake Middle School and Stratton Upper School converting to secondary, with Edward Peake Middle School moving to a new secondary building on Land East of Biggleswade.

With the exception of Potton Middle, the earliest implementation date for primary transition is for 2024/25. The current proposed date for secondary transition is for 2024/25.

Meanwhile, the transition proposals are less clear cut for Dunton and Wrestlingworth lower schools.

CBC has presented the following options in its paper: Wrestlingworth and Dunton lowers transitioning to primary on their current sites; Wrestlingworth and Dunton amalgamating as a primary school on Dunton Lower site; Wrestlingworth and Dunton amalgamating and relocating as a new primary school on Land East of Biggleswade.

However, Cllr Zerny claimed on social media: "It seems as far as Dunton and Wrestlingworth lower schools are concerned, CBC has taken a bit of a step back from the cliff edge. Residents put together a huge petition opposing the plans and presented this to CBC. The council now says it will have three options in the consultation."

He added: "The elephant in the room is that all of these plans are based on schools being built on the land east of Biggleswade, the 1,500 houses a power plant and a major school. The planning permission is still not formerly granted by CBC and the threat of a legal challenge still hangs over it.

"The funding for the proposed primary school on the site, which might consume Dunton and Wrestlingworth, would be paid for by the developer.

"CBC is putting itself at risk of 'pre-determining' this planning application by basing the future of all these schools on a planning application it hasn't yet approved. The many, many people who have opposed the housing estate might question whether their local authority could really be said to be taking an independent position towards this development when it is planning its entire local schools provision on the site being built in three years."

Cllr Zerny added: "And so far we are still waiting for the Council to show how it will meet SEND provision. A separate consultation is already running on this which could see Ivel Valley move alongside Stratton School."

For secondary and sixth form provision, the paper proposes: Edward Peake Middle transitions as a 6 form entry (FE) secondary –growing to 8FE (in line with growth); Stratton Upper transitions to 8FE secondary, with scope to grow (in line with growth); one sixth form in the town open to pupils from both secondary schools.

However, Cllr Whitaker told the Chronicle: "Another concern is around 6th form provision which is currently provided by Stratton School. One of the conditions of the Housing Infrastructure Fund monies is that there is a sixth form offer on the land East site as well but it hasn't been decided how this could work with CBC suggesting 6th form might be offered over both sites but managed by a single school, although they have't said which.

"The wholesale movement of so much of our schooling to the East of the site makes me very worried about the West of Biggleswade. Children will only have two options for secondary schooling in Biggleswade, Stratton School or the new land East site. This will make it much more difficult for children living on the West of Biggleswade to get to school using sustainable transport.

"The whole proposal feels rushed and incomplete."

A Central Bedfordshire Council spokesman said: “As part of the Schools for the Future programme, we have been collaborating with schools in the Biggleswade area to develop a proposal to move from the three-tier model to a primary/secondary model of education.

“The main driver of this is to improve educational outcomes for children and young people in the area, and all the schools are supportive of this change, which would bring them in line with the rest of the country.

“For families, it would provide a simpler pathway for their children as they move between schools just once. And, as the number of transition points are reduced, it would ensure children and young people are better placed to succeed in their education.

“For schools, as teacher training is now focused on the primary/secondary model, this proposal will enable them to recruit and retain the best teachers, while making changes in a co-ordinated way will ensure schools’ future viability.

“On June 8, elected councillors on our Executive Committee will be discussing a recommendation to begin a public consultation on these proposals.

“We fully appreciate that residents will have a keen interest in these, and indeed the future of education where they live, but no decisions have been made yet.

“The consultation will be the first, but not be the only, opportunity for families and local residents to have their say and we will actively encourage as many as possible to take part to help shape the plan.

“Subject to Executive approval, we will aim to launch a consultation later this month and will provide families with more detail around these proposals, from which to provide informed feedback.”