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Schools (Essex)

Volume 493: debated on Thursday 4 June 2009

The Petition of various pupils and former pupils, parents, residents and others,

Declares that Thomas, Lord Audley School has a special place in the life of the Berechurch Ward community in accordance with the Government's policies towards promoting sustainable communities; further declares the petitioners' opposition to proposals by Essex County Council which would result in the closure of the School and the bussing of pupils to a school some distance away at considerable financial cost to the parents.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons calls on the Government to stop Essex County Council from closing Thomas, Lord Audley School; to ensure that all necessary support, financial and otherwise, is given to enable the school to improve its performance and to continue to be an integral part of the community in the years ahead; and to implement ‘Option 4’ for secondary school provision in Colchester which would include Thomas, Lord Audley School operating in partnership with Alderman Blaxill School and the Stanway School.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Bob Russell, Official Report, 31 March 2009; Vol. 490, c. 892 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families:

School place planning is the statutory responsibility of the local authority (LA) in this case Essex County Council. LAs have a duty to assess the current and future need for places and where there are high levels of surplus places are expected to take decisive action to reduce these, as maintaining excessive surplus places represents a poor use of resources—resources that can be used more effectively to support schools in raising standards. Where the LA propose to make any changes to local school provision they must publish statutory proposals which are then decided under established local decision making arrangements. The House of Commons and Ministers have no direct role in the process.

The process for making statutory proposals to existing schools (e.g. school closures) involves five statutory stages: Consultation (with all interested parties); Publication (in a local newspaper, at the entrance to the school and in a conspicuous place in the area served by the school); Representations (allowing for comments and objections to be submitted); Decision (normally by the LA); and Implementation (where proposals are approved). There is a right of appeal to the schools adjudicator in specific cases.

Essex County Council has undertaken its responsibility in this area quite correctly through a local consultation process which highlighted the two key facts for parents: the overprovision of places in Colchester and the sustained levels of low achievement at three Colchester schools. The County propose to address these two issues by closing three schools (including Thomas Lord Audley) and creating a single school, which the authority hope to be an Academy subject to the DCSF decision. The County also proposes to expand the five remaining schools, all of which are successful and popular with parents.

If, having considered the responses to its consultation, the County Council decides to proceed with the proposed reorganisation it is required to publish Statutory Notices. Then follows a six week representation period in which comments and objections can be submitted. These must be taken into consideration by the decision maker when deciding whether to approve proposals. More detail on the decision-making arrangements and guidance is available from the School Organisation Website at: schoolorg.