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Schools system slims at the middle

England has almost 600 fewer schools than it did four years ago.

About a quarter of the 579 schools that have disappeared were middle schools. Many of the others were lost through amalgamation or victims of the decline of the nursery and special school sectors.

Middle schools developed in the 1950s and 1960s as councils did away with all-age elementary schools - outlawed in the 1944 Education Act - and began to introduce comprehensive secondaries. But the coming of national tests - with key exams at 11 and 14 - make it sensible for pupils to transfer at the end of key stage 2.

Since then, reorganisation schemes have sounded the death knell for many middle schools that were classified as primaries (for pupils up to the age of 12), and secondaries (children aged nine to 13 or 14). Authorities such as the London borough of Merton and Oxford City have reverted to conventional two-tier systems where pupils transfer at 11.

This year, there are only 432 middle schools clustered in small pockets, mostly in rural areas.

The drop in nursery schools is more of a surprise. There are now 39 fewer than in 1998. The decline has affected all regions of England, except London, which has three more schools. The North-west has lost most nursery schools.

Most other school closures have resulted from mergers, often as cost-saving measures, since a primary needs one less head than separate infant and junior schools. There can often be a saving on other management salaries as well.

It is perhaps surprising, given the drive towards inclusion, that the number of special schools has dropped by only 68, or around 6 per cent, since 1998. However, some of the independent schools that have closed may also have served pupils with special needs.

As primary rolls are now falling, more school closures and mergers are likely over the next few years. The only new schools to be built in the near future are likely to be city academies or those in areas of new housing.

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