Leighton Buzzard's roll-out of two-tier education “has to be delivered” so kids can get best grades, says deputy council leader

CBC's Schools for the Future "has to be delivered", says deputy council leader
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A phased roll-out of two-tier education in Central Bedfordshire “has to be delivered” so local children can achieve top exam marks, according to the local authority’s deputy leader.

Part of the planned switch from three to two-tier was paused earlier this year by Central Bedfordshire Council’s new administration to reconsider finance and demand for school places within the district. The move towards a primary and secondary model of schooling aims to raise educational standards as part of the council’s Schools for the Future programme, which is divided up into several clusters.

Speaking exclusively to the local democracy reporting service, CBC deputy leader and Independent Biggleswade West councillor Hayley Whitaker kept a promise to update progress this autumn.

Children in a classroom. Picture: pololia - stock.adobe.comChildren in a classroom. Picture: pololia - stock.adobe.com
Children in a classroom. Picture: pololia - stock.adobe.com

“It’s absolutely our intention to do the three- to two-tier transition,” she explained. “We have to deliver it for our children because they need this system to get the best grades and best results from school.

“There was much work over the summer to understand what pupil numbers are likely to be and how we complete that two-tier switch.

“We know birth rates have dropped nationally, including across Central Bedfordshire. People don’t have as much disposable income. So birth rates, and building and buying of new homes has stopped.

“That housing drives our need for more school places. The new data around our future pupil figures shows we haven’t got that huge demand forecasted a few years ago.

“We don’t want to over-provide because that’s not great for children’s education and the schools will struggle to fund sufficient teachers.”

Although the wider delivery programme has been reviewed, “Leighton Buzzard isn’t progressing currently”, said the executive member for families, education and children councillor Whitaker.

“That’s something about which we’ll continue to talk to the schools. We’ve started to look at how to deliver the whole programme across Central Beds to include the Leighton Buzzard cluster, Flitwick and all the other areas.

“So we’ll consider Leighton Buzzard as part of that wider programme. Our priorities are Shefford and Stotfold, and Cranfield.

“We’re considering how we can progress the rest, which won’t happen overnight. It’ll take several years, but that means we need to establish what works for each cluster individually.

“We don’t want to promise something we can’t be confident of delivering. It’s giving some reassurance, while trying to be realistic.”

When asked for an update on the future of Ridgmont Lower School, councillor Whitaker replied: “We’ve been out to consultation. I don’t know the results yet, as that data is still being analysed.

“That information will be presented to the children’s services overview and scrutiny committee and then the executive before any potential formal consultation on closure, if that’s what the decision is.

“But I wouldn’t like to pre-empt that decision. It might be the verdict is to keep it open.”

The site is owned by the Duke of Bedford and leased to the school. The number of children on its roll has reduced from 45 in Spring 2019 to 20 in Spring 2023, but parents and residents are campaigning tirelessly to save the school.

SOURCE: Phone interview with Central Bedfordshire Council deputy leader and archive material.