Leadership is vital for a primary and secondary school system to become uniform across Central Bedfordshire, it’s been claimed.
And if the local authority fails to take that lead it would “be equivalent to Brexit”, a meeting heard.
“The council needs to progress towards a two-tier system,” according to Conservative Sandy councillor Peter Smith. “Whether it’s academies or maintained schools does not matter.
“It’s best to have a system which works,” he told Central Bedfordshire Council children’s services overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday.
“I strongly believe you either have a two-tier system or you don’t,” he said. “The hybrid system is wholly confusing. We need to lead on this. If not it’s like Brexit.”
The local authority was setting out its agenda for schools of the future, as Conservative Stotfold and Langford councillor Steve Dixon warned: “We really can’t put any more children in the vast majority of our schools.
“There’s no point building a school which doesn’t allow for it to grow further. We’ve got to be forward thinking,” he said.
“The Local Plan allows us to do that. If you’re told what to do, it’s not going to have the same impact as if you buy or engage into it.”
Around 15 per cent are staying in the three-tier system of lower, middle and upper schools, according to the council’s head of partnerships, community engagement and youth services Peter Fraser.
“There’s a real mix of provision in Central Bedfordshire,” he explained. “We are working with schools to understand their views about the future.
“This includes analysis and implications of growth in the area. It’s all in the best interests of the children. We need to work collaboratively.
“We want to achieve best value. We need to be really coherent and transparent.
“There are uncertainties about the volume and speed of housing growth,” he added.
“The majority of schools are open to exploring the two-tier system. More than half have converted or are wanting to change.
“We have a complex landscape. We need to be a facilitator over this issue, not an authority.”
Central Bedfordshire is expecting to cater for up to 43,000 homes by 2035.
Around 20,000 have been approved already, which would lead to “9,700 young people needing school places in the next five years alone,” said Mr Fraser.
Conservative Flitwick councillor Fiona Chapman warned of the threat to smaller communities of a move to two-tier primary and secondary schooling.
“It’s not going to work in the smallest rural areas,” said councillor Chapman, who chairs the council.
“Some people see them as the centre of these villages, or of village life.”
Councillor Dixon, who’s the executive member for families, education and children, acknowledged “the role historically which many schools have played”.
He said: “The fact is we’re looking over the hill, rather than shuffling mobile buildings on to the edge of existing classrooms.
“If we don’t do what we’re doing, when the housing comes we’re never going to be on the front foot.
“If the Local Plan doesn’t come to fruition, there’s some scepticism whether the housing will come.
“It’s not an overnight journey,” he added. “Sure there will be things that go wrong.
“But we need to work together. We can’t work against each other.
“I am really pleased schools are engaging with the process. I want kids coming into Central Bedfordshire education to stand out.
“I worry that they’re not doing at present. I worry they don’t have enough resilience. I want them to be first among equals.”