A CONSULTATION on plans to transform the education system in Ilminster and Crewkerne ends next week.

And so this week is the last chance for the public to have their say on the proposals, which will see a new structure of primary schools and secondary schools, instead of first schools, middle schools and upper schools.

But parents and headteachers are not happy about the plans – saying they will have a “detrimental impact” on all the schools in the system.

The current plans were drawn up after years of debates between schools, academy trusts and Somerset County Council (SCC).

The only thing they seem to agree on is that the three tier system is not sustainable.

One reason for this is that Wadham Upper School is in debt to the county council, expected to be at £1.8million by September 2022.

By adding Year 7 and 8 provisions to the school, Wadham will provide a wider curriculum and so receive a better share of the available education funding.

“We want to secure high quality education for every pupil in the county,” said a spokesperson for SCC.

“The number of children coming into schools in Crewkerne and Ilminster has been reducing for many years, which is putting the quality of education being delivered at risk and causing large budget overspends.

“In 2019, a review into education provision in the area took place which found the current structure of schools was not sustainable.

“A new set of proposals setting out how education could be delivered in future was put forward. However, no decisions have been made and we would encourage anyone with a view to make sure they take part in the Statutory Consultation which is now open and running until 24 February.”

READ MORE: Time running out to influence massive changes planned for school system 

Many other schools in the area will be affected by the proposals – including the closure of Misterton Church of England First School, Crewkerne, and the amalgamation of Swanmead Community School and Greenfylde Church of England First School in Ilminster.

Chard & Ilminster News: Misterton First School

Under the new structure, Merriott First School, Haselbury Plucknett Church of England First School, Ashlands Church of England First School, St Bartholomew’s Church of England First School are set to become primary schools.

And Wadham School in Crewkerne will become a secondary school, teaching children aged 11-19 instead of 13-19.

Chard & Ilminster News: Greenfylde School ; Ilminster

Holly Phillips, who has a child at Greenfylde School, is upset about the potential plans and is concerned Wadham School will become “too big” and children’s needs will be lost.

“I am concerned Wadham will become too big and children’s needs will be lost,” she said.

“The problem is that by solving Wadham's budget issue by this restructure, all other schools in the system will be subjected to major transformations.

“These other schools don't need fixing - but by shaking them up and making them undergo such major changes as are planned, I don't know how any authority could guarantee that the standard of education could be maintained at them.

“I think there are bigger implications, such as people who are talking about moving out of the area and I really think it could affect the economy and the vibrancy of the town.

“We want and need young families in the area, and don’t want them to leave because of the new system.”

Despite parents concerns, SCC have said they will take “great care” if the plans go ahead to “preserve and enhance the offer for all pupils”.

“If the Council’s Cabinet decides to proceed, there would be 18 months to deliver a careful transition,” said a spokesperson for SCC.

“Particular care would be given to pupils whose schooling or transitions would be most affected. Pupils with additional needs and vulnerabilities would also be given special attention. There are many excellent aspects of schooling in the area.”

People are also worried about the impact the restructure will have on Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) children.

A parent who has children with special education needs, who wishes to remain anonymous, has said they are concerned because their child would have to either attend Wadham School, which will be too big, or a specialist school further away from home.

“For many parents like us, we moved our family to the area to be supported by schools that are small, discrete and part of a community where our children have been well supported,” they added.

“Yet when asked what would become of our children with SEND, Cllr Purbeck said in the online parents consultation that ‘parents with children with special needs could attend specialist schools elsewhere in the county’.

“This is an irresponsible comment which would mean many parents like us with children with special needs will be forced to take their children many miles away from our rural homes.

“Our children with complex needs would have to leave the schools that they are inclusively integrated into, which we selected through very lengthy EHCP's (Education, Health & Social Care Plans) and be forced to send them to schools where they do not know anyone and which pigeon holes all children with SEND in one place.

“This does not meet our children's needs and it totally discriminates against them. To think a council solution for children with SEND school closures and re-structures is to send them to specialist schools is ridiculous.”

In the consultation response document, SCC acknowledges “vulnerable pupils” are always at risk is “any transition”, but with fewer transition points, they believe there will be “less opportunity” for those with SEND to get lost.

The document also stated: “Appropriate and effective support for these pupils is a statutory requirement and teachers, SENCOs and school leaders would have the same responsibility for their pupils as they do now. However, given the unusual nature of the changes proposed, additional support and planning would be put in place to secure the position of any pupil with SEND or who was known to social care.”

Chard & Ilminster News: Maiden Beech Academy

One school that will also be affected is Maiden Beech Academy in Crewkerne, run by the Bridgwater and Taunton College Trust (BTCT).

The trust has undertaken it’s own consultation about the proposals, which shows that parents and educational professionals would like the academy to remain a middle school.

Carl Winch, headteacher of the academy, said there is “significant opposition to the proposal”.

“If the proposals are implemented in September 2022, there will be a detrimental impact on all schools in the system,” he added.

“There are no winners here. The Local Authority appear deaf to the feedback of parents, staff and the wider community and unwilling to explore any alternative solution other than a move to a two-tier system, which is being proposed.

“Most alarmingly, the LA hasn't even completed the necessary due diligence to ensure that the solution it is proposing is actually sustainable over time.

“It will incur additional costs annually of over £300k and in all likelihood, the financial pressures experienced at Wadham School, will simply be passed on to the small primary schools.”

The statutory consultation on the proposals were announced on January 27 and the public will be able to respond until February 24.

This follows a pre-publication consultation that took place during November and December 2020 and a decision made on 18 January to progress to another, more formal stage of consultation called a statutory consultation.

To submit your views, write to SCC, fill in the online questionnaire at www.somerset.gov.uk/schoolsconsultation, or email crewkerneilminsterschools@somerset.gov.uk.

Councillor Faye Purbrick, Cabinet Member for Education and Transformation at Somerset County Council, said: “I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to the last period of consultation that ran for four weeks at the end of 2020.

“We were very grateful for the level of engagement and the passion that school staff, parents, carers and the wider local community all demonstrated for our excellent schools.

“We continue to want people to be involved in shaping the proposals and are committed to listening to their views.

“I once again encourage everyone with an interest to have their say and take part in this statutory consultation to shape the future of education in the Crewkerne and Ilminster area. We want to continue to work together to ensure that every child continues to receive the first-class education that they absolutely deserve.”

When this statutory consultation has concluded, the council’s cabinet is expected to make a final decision on what will happen to schools in the area on March 17.

Ms Phillips, who has spoken out about the plans, has also created a Facebook group for those who are concerned about the schools restructure. The group is called Protect Crewkerne/Ilminster Districts Education System.