CONTROVERSIAL plans to expand the age ranges of two schools have been halted - and may never be carried out, it has been revealed.

The news will affect Swanmead Community School, in Ilminster, and Maiden Beech Academy, in Crewkerne.

The two middle schools are currently in the process of joining the Bridgwater and Taunton College Trust, which was planning to add three more school years to both sites.

The news was first confirmed by BTCT’s chief executive in March but, now, Peter Elliott has said the expansion plans have been ‘paused’.

The change of heart came after a report on the future of South Somerset’s education system.

Mr Elliott said: “We are very keen to work with the middle schools and believe they will benefit from being a part of a larger multi-academy trust.

“Maiden Beech is due to join us on December 1, and we are looking at Swanmead joining us on February 1.

“The whole decision around the changing of age ranges is something we are pausing and reflecting on.”

The report, which cost £75,000, was produced by Futures of Somerset and assessed a number of options available to the three-tier system.

However, it stopped short of concluding which option would best cope with the area’s falling number of school-age children.

A spokesman for Somerset County Council said it is ‘reviewing’ the school structure because of the ‘falling number of school-aged children’.

He added: “This, combined with the way central Government allocates money to schools, means the current structure as a whole isn’t sustainable into the future.

“In the long-term, schools will find it harder to provide the quality of education everyone wants to see.”

Mr Elliott said that, although the £75k report failed to suggest a best course of action, he did rate it highly.

He added: “The amount of work needed to conduct site visits, financial models, look at capital expenditure - my sense is it is good value for money when you look at the size of that feasibility study.

“We are all in a better position now, better informed about the potential options, because of it.”

Both the county council and BTCT agreed there is not a single school solution, warning of the knock-on effects any changes will have on the area.

“This debate has been going on for years and it doesn’t look like it is going to get resolved soon,” Mr Elliott said.

“We are keen to work alongside other stakeholders and enter that conversation without any commitment to changes in the school structure, if there is to be any, but I am not sure we are the ones to lead that process.”

And a potential change to South Somerset’s three-tier system is not the only possible solution, according to Mr Elliott.

“The primary driver in this conversation is funding,” he said. “There are currently positive talks in government about improving the funding situation, so we must keep a close eye on that, too.”

Although the report has now been published, SCC is still working to find the best solution.

The council spokesman added: “The purpose of this review was, and will continue to be, delivering the best outcomes for children at all stages of their education.

“That is something everyone in the area can support, and it requires a school structure that is sustainable in the long-term.

“At this stage the next steps are still to be determined, but the county council will be working closely with the Regional Schools Commissioner on finding a way forward.”