Schools for the Future shake up for Biggleswade is still controversial consultation reveals

Central Beds Council is planning to create a two tier system in the area - which was supported by just 58% of people

By Joanna Gravett
Thursday, 27th January 2022, 12:16 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th January 2022, 4:41 pm

Proposals to shake up the Biggleswade school system have yielded mixed feelings from the public.

The results of Central Bedfordshire Council's (CBC's) Schools For the Future consultation have been published this month, revealing that its plans to convert from a three tier to two tier system remain controversial.

The changes will affect institutions in Biggleswade, Potton, Northill, Sutton, Upper Caldecote, Dunton, and Wrestlingworth, with 353 responses received “largely from” these areas.

Credit: Stratton Upper School.

Central Beds Council has said that subject to council Executive approval on February 8, the proposal is to close Potton Middle School and change the age range of Potton Lower School to become a primary school from September 2023 – though this option only achieved 41 per cent support.

For all other schools in the area, it is recommended that Executive approves a revised plan that will take into account the revised pupil growth forecast, and will be considered alongside the consultation feedback and the outcome of initial feasibility work, to bring forward the most appropriate model for the Biggleswade area.

Central Bedfordshire Councillor, Dr Hayley Whitaker, of Biggleswade South, claimed: "CBC has just released the results of last year's public consultation, and residents haven’t given the Schools for the Future plans the ringing endorsement they had hoped for.

"Although 96 per cent of residents agreed that the council needed a plan for schools only 58 per cent backed the move to two tier, i.e. phasing out lower, middle and upper and moving to primary/secondary."

Proposals that did receive over 50 per cent of support included: St Andrews Lower East conversion to primary school (83 per cent); St Andrews Lower West conversion to primary school (85 per cent); Sutton V.A. Lower School conversion to primary school (61 per cent); Stratton Upper School conversion to secondary school (73 per cent); one sixth form open to pupils of both secondary schools (63 per cent) - currently proposed to be Stratton Upper and Edward Peake CofE VC Middle School.

There was also support for the proposal to covert Caldecote Academy to a primary school (100 per cent) and support for the conversion of Northill CofE Academy to a primary school (80 per cent).

However, for these two results CBC noted that it was "only from a low number of responses".

Proposals with less than 50 per cent of support included: the transition of Biggleswade Academy to a primary school (38 per cent); the move of Lawnside Academy (which would become a primary school) to the vacated Edward Peake CofE VC Middle School site (12 per cent); the establishment of a new primary school on land East of Biggleswade (20 per cent); the amalgamation of Potton Lower and Middle schools to create a primary school in 2022 (41 per cent); the transition of Edward Peake CofE VC Middle School to a secondary school and relocation to a new secondary school site built on land east of Biggleswade (42 per cent).

Meanwhile, the three options presented for Wrestlingworth CofE VC Lower School and Dunton Church of England VC Lower, received the following support: Option A – Dunton CofE VC Lower and Wrestlingworth CofE VC Lower convert to primary on their existing sites (91per cent) ; Option B – Dunton CofE VC Lower and Wrestlingworth CofE VC Lower amalgamate to become a 1FE primary school at the Dunton school site (4 per cent); Option C - Dunton CofE VC Lower and Wrestlingworth CofE VC Lower amalgamate and relocate as the new 2FE Primary School at Land East of Biggleswade (5 per cent).

Cllr Whitaker claimed: "It would now seem almost impossible for CBC to now push ahead with plans to close these schools and move pupils to new schools at Land East."

She added: "CBC have tried to argue that with around 4,000 children and only 353 responses this is only an eight per cent response rate. However, this doesn’t take into account that many families will have more than one child attending school in Biggleswade so the response rate is actually much higher."

Following the consultation, Central Bedfordshire Council’s Executive is asked to "note and consider" the response, and authorise a move to statutory notice, for the closure of Potton Middle School and the change of age range of Potton Lower School to become a primary school for September 2023 - "utilising the buildings and infrastructure of both the Potton Lower and Potton Middle sites as far as required".

It has also agreed to receive a further report on the model and timescale for the Biggleswade cluster of school’s transition to a two-tier system of education.

The consultation feedback and recommendations were considered by Central Bedfordshire Council’s Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee on January 25.

CBC's Schools For the Future website states: "The council’s Executive Committee will consider the consultation feedback and the discussions with schools and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee before making a decision to progress to the next stage. This meeting is on February 8th, 2022.

"Assuming a decision is made, the council is then required to publish statutory notices for Potton Lower School and Potton Middle School, as the council-maintained schools that would change. You will be able to comment on these for a period of a minimum of four weeks."

However, Cllr Whitaker claimed: "The plan to change to two tier will not come cheap and in the latest reports the council alludes to its plans to meet the bill by selling the land vacated by schools.

"CBC had hoped much of the costs would be met by Section 106 (S106) from the Land East development for at least 1,500 houses.

"However, everything appears to have gone very quiet with the developer for this site."

A Central Bedfordshire Council spokesperson, said: “Schools for the Future is an ambitious, long-term programme to raise education standards in Central Bedfordshire by ensuring the area has the right schools, in the right places, delivering the best education. Moving towards a two-tier educational system is part of achieving this.  

“In Biggleswade and the surrounding area there is an immediate need to address the falling pupils numbers at Potton Middle School, as a direct result of parents choosing to send their children to a neighbouring local authority area and town, where schools operate within the two-tier model of education. Unfortunately, this is having a negative impact on the middle school’s viability.

“No decisions have been made yet but, subject to Executive approval on February 8th, the proposal is the close of Potton Middle School and the change of age range of Potton Lower School to become a primary school, from September 2023. 

“For all other schools in the area, it is recommended that Executive approves a revised plan. This will take into account the revised pupil growth forecast, and will be considered alongside the consultation feedback and the outcome of initial feasibility work, to bring forward the most appropriate model for the Biggleswade area.

“There will be further opportunity for parents and local residents to have their say and, in the meantime, all the latest information, including progress with each school, is available on the of the Schools for the Future website.