‘Schools for the Future ‘has to be delivered’ to help children in Biggleswade achieve best grades’
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A phased roll-out of two-tier education in Central Bedfordshire has to be delivered so local children can achieve top exam marks, according to the local authority’s deputy leader.
Part of the planned switch from three- to two-tier was paused earlier this year by Central Bedfordshire Council’s new administration to reconsider finance and demand for school places within the district.
The move towards a primary and secondary model of schooling aims to raise educational standards as part of the council’s Schools for the Future programme, which is divided up into several clusters.
“It’s absolutely our intention to do the three- to two-tier transition,” she explained. “We have to deliver it for our children because they need this system to get the best grades and best results from school.
“There was much work over the summer to understand what pupil numbers are likely to be and how we complete that two-tier switch.
“We know birth rates have dropped nationally, including across Central Bedfordshire. People don’t have as much disposable income. So birth rates, and building and buying of new homes has stopped.
“That housing drives our need for more school places. The new data around our future pupil figures shows we haven’t got that huge demand forecasted a few years ago.
“We don’t want to over-provide because that’s not great for children’s education and the schools will struggle to fund sufficient teachers.”
Although the wider delivery programme has been reviewed, “our priorities include Shefford and Stotfold”, said the executive member for families, education and children councillor Whitaker.
“Shefford and Stotfold have been put back on several occasions, which has taken its toll on parents, families and the schools. We don’t want that to continue.
“We’re considering how to progress the rest, which won’t happen overnight. It’ll take several years, but that means we need to establish what works for each cluster individually.
“We don’t want to promise something we can’t be confident of delivering. It’s giving some reassurance, while trying to be realistic.”
The more advanced Biggleswade cluster “continues as planned because our contractors are employed and the work is ongoing”, added councillor Whitaker.
“Building work is due to begin in the summer. There may be some delays. We’re working with our project managers on a school-by-school basis.
“We’ve got plans in place if certain things don’t happen on time to cover all eventualities, such as finding what space could be used if a new sports block isn’t ready.
“Shefford and Stotfold were impacted by the pause in the programme earlier this year. We’ve been meeting the schools and making some real progress. The model of how that moves forward isn’t straightforward.
“There’s a recognition from everyone it’s not something we can do overnight. What we can say is the transition won’t be completed in those two towns in 2025 or 2026.
“There are different permutations we want to explore before reaching a decision.”
SOURCE: Phone interview with Central Bedfordshire Council deputy