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Schools’ fight for survival amid closure fears

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The fight to save three Dunstable schools now at risk of closure is under way, with all of the teams working hard to try to safeguard their future.

There was widespread shock when Central Beds Council announced executive councillors will look at a proposal to launch public consultation on possibly closing Ashton Middle, Brewers Hill Middle and Streetfield Middle schools.

A report to the executive says the schools “have falling pupil rolls and are unviable”.

But any “viable” alternatives to closure would be considered by decision-makers.

Ashton Middle is consulting on potentially becoming a secondary school.

Streetfield Middle has just held a special meeting to give parents first sight of a proposal to be put to the council.

And Brewers Hill will issue a consultation document to present its case to stay open.

At least six public meetings will be held in Dunstable if executive councillors press ahead with consultation over potential school closures.

They will decide on February 4 whether to begin public consultation on possibly closing Ashton Middle, Brewers Hill Middle and Streetfield Middle.

This is just one of a number of matters on the agenda at that executive committee meeting.

The council says pupil numbers at each of these schools have “significantly fallen” as a result of changes to the town’s education system.

It says these changes have been led by schools and their communities.

Age range changes at a number of schools are widely seen as leading to a shift from a three-tier education system to a two-tier arrangement.

Executive councillor Mark Versallion told the Gazette that next week’s committee meeting will only be looking at whether to begin consultation.

He said: “Clearly, I believe we should consult, so we can then have the debate in Dunstable. If approved, the council will then launch a wide-ranging consultation that will give everyone the chance to learn more about the reasons for the proposals and to give their views.

“If approved, the consultation will last six weeks from February 24 to April 7 and will include at least six public meetings in Dunstable as well as online and paper consultation papers.

“At the end of the consultation, if the council decides to pursue closure of the schools, it would then have to go through another consultation before any final decision could be made in August.”

He said: “There will be extensive opportunities for people to have their say before any final decision is taken.”

Danielle Hoy, of the Save Our Middle Schools campaign, said: “My feelings are mainly anger, as they are discussing closures of schools that they agreed to support throughout the process if there was justification to keep them open.”

She felt strongly that the council should not be discussing this until next year.

And she emphasised public meetings on potential school closures must be held locally.

Danielle said: “They should be committed to listening to the views of the town before they make any decisions.”

> The full report going before the executive committee can be read via www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/february2014

> See the January 29 edition of the Dunstable Gazette for the schools’ response to the news.

 

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