Parents' battle to run own school

Image caption,
Parents believe the town would suffer without its own school

"A waste of a million bricks", is how parents view the closure of a local school which they are now campaigning to operate themselves.

Five years ago, Suffolk County Council announced the closure of Clare Middle School in Sudbury and its plans to send the pupils to a secondary school 10 miles away.

Marie Baker, who has two children aged 11 and nine, was one of a dozen parents who decided to step in.

"Kids and parents really like the school and didn't want to see it go and a few parents decided to see what we could do to change that," she said.

"This is a great town, it has a lot going for it and a key thing is both of the schools. Lots of parents move here because of them and local businesses and facilities all benefit from the schools being here. From closing them lots of things will suffer."

She explained she would like to see her children educated in the town, and that it seemed silly not to use existing facilities.

"The infrastructure's here, the school's here, the grounds are here, there's room for great improvement, there's a great basis. There's science labs, swimming pool. I just really don't want to see that go."

The parents' first attempt was rejected by Suffolk County Council, but they think they are now likely to be successful following the change of government.

Education Secretary Michael Gove is setting out on Friday how various groups, including parents, can apply to run their own schools.

This time the parents have drafted in the help of local business people to produce their bid. Their 200-page proposal has taken six weeks to perfect. They want to open in September 2011 with 330 pupils in three year groups. This would then build up to as many as 700 children.

They have yet to decide who they will bring in to run it for them but have been looking at several options.

Another parent, Georgina Lovejoy, said it had been very hard work, but they felt it was worth it.

She said: "As a parent I feel I know what is best for my own child. With free schools it's new, it needs to be tried and tested and I don't particularly want my children to be the guinea pigs of it, but if it means keeping a school in the community for the community's children, then I agree with it."

Council fears

And if they were successful? "I'd be ecstatic, it had been a lot of hard work and it would have paid off. To have both my girls being educated in the same town just as I was would just be great.

She added: "I'd like to keep my children in the community they're growing up in, the facilities are already here within the school, we have a swimming pool and fantastic sports facilities and my children can walk to school instead of getting on a bus. There's over a million bricks standing here and it would seem such a shame and a waste to see it stopped."

Graham Newman, portfolio holder for children, schools and young people at the Tory-controlled Suffolk County Council, said the reason the proposal was rejected originally was because the council did not have enough money.

He is concerned about the effect of free schools and academies on other schools in the county.

"Putting money in Clare means the schools around there which the children would otherwise have gone to could be run down. But we have no choice due to change in policy.

"The concern is we'll be left with schools which are up to the local authority to maintain, but are gradually deprived of resources as more and more schools become free schools.

"Not so much what happens to those buildings or the teachers, but those children who are in a school which is gradually getting smaller, gradually seeing its curriculum choice reduced, that would be a disaster and I hope it doesn't happen."

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