Denial that delay in two-tier education change in Leighton-Linslade is due to fear of parental backlash
Pandemic is blamed for hold-up by leading councillor who insists majority of the schools are 'hugely supportive' of move
Further delays have emerged to the planned switch to primary and secondary schools in Leighton Buzzard and Linslade.
The move towards a two-tier education system is being rolled out in phases by Central Bedfordshire Council under its Schools for the Future programme.
But the pandemic has influenced the pace of progress during the last year, a council meeting was told.
Liberal Democrat Linslade councillor Peter Snelling raised the issue during open questions, noting: "The proposals for Leighton Linslade phase two have been withdrawn from the executive committee meeting in June, with no future date announced.
"This is the third such delay, with Covid once again being used as an excuse," he said. "Is it not the reality that some of the schools don't agree with your draft proposals and you dare not go to public consultation fearing a backlash from parents?
"Meanwhile, local councillors, at least those who aren't Conservative members, are being kept in the dark when we're expected to answer queries from our residents.
"Will you please give me a definitive answer about when firm proposals will be tabled?" he asked.
Conservative Cranfield and Marston Moretaine councillor and CBC deputy leader Sue Clark replied: "We've deferred arranging a 'Have your say' consultation process for Leighton Linslade phase two, as it's called.
"I'm afraid, although you think Covid is an excuse, it isn't just an excuse. It has been a reality. At the start of the pandemic, most of the schools didn't want to talk to us about long-term plans.
"This is because they were focused on dealing with the immediate issues of sorting out their schools, looking after families and getting to grips with remote learning, while protecting their vulnerable children.
"What's happened is everything has got bunched up as a result of those delays," said Cllr Clark, who's the executive member for families, education and children.
"We need to deliver each cluster in a timely manner, so we can give each one the right attention it requires and do it well.
"That's why we've delayed Leighton Linslade two and we're also delaying Cranfield, as well as Shefford and Stotfold phase two. So Leighton Linslade isn't alone in this."
The catalyst for the Leighton Linslade cluster of housing growth, "isn't going to come through until 2025", delaying the demand for school places, she explained.
"That gives us time to do the work we need to do with the schools in advance. It's completely wrong to suggest we daren't go to consultation. That's simply not the case at all.
"The majority of the schools are hugely supportive of going to primary and secondary in the Leighton Linslade cluster and are desperate to get on with it.
"We recognise that and will be coming forward with firmer dates later in the year."
Councillor Snelling added: "If the schools are so desperate to get on with it, as councillor Clark says, then they're not being held up in their debate about this because of Covid.
"My understanding from various schools I know and what the governors say is that they lack information from the local authority about what's going on.
"I'm more concerned we, as local councillors, are told something so that we can at least respond to parents who want to know 'Is this happening?'
"And they expect us to have answers. There seems to be a great reluctance to provide that from this council."
Councillor Clark responded: "We're not going to share or put any plans in the public domain until we ask the executive to agree to go to consultation.
"It's just not possible to do this and I'm sorry about that councillor Snelling. I appreciate your frustration, but what I told you before is the truth."
> Do you support the switch? Email views to [email protected]