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Shephard approves massive overhaul

The largest single reorganisation of schools by an education authority for years has been given the go-ahead by the Education Secretary.

In all, 96 per cent of the plan by Warwickshire County Council to close or merge schools and change the age of transfer were approved by the Department for Education.

The move means the authority will be able to invest Pounds 30 million on major capital improvements, and make Pounds 2m in revenue savings.

The intention is to reduce the 16,000 surplus places, costing the authority Pounds 4 million a year, to around 5,500 by 1999.

The scale of the Warwickshire plans and the outcome were being closely watched by other education authorities with surplus places problems.

About 190 schools will be affected in some way. The age of transfer change, which comes into effect in September 1996, will create infant and junior schools and bring all county secondaries in line with neighbouring authorities by admitting pupils from Year 7.

There may be some staggering of admissions to certain schools if shortage of space causes problems in admitting two year groups.

A smaller-scale reorganisation of the northern area of the county was successfully implemented two years ago, resulting in a Pounds 3.5 million investment in schools.

Although the latest proposals, which cover the remainder of Warwickshire, have been largely approved by Gillian Shephard, she has agreed to the creation of four new grant-maintained junior schools, which held ballots to avoid closure. In two of the schools, Dunnington CE and Wolverton JI, both in the south of the county, parents and communities fought fierce campaigns to prevent closures. However, four other schools have been refused permission to opt out.

Eric Wood, Warwickshire chief education officer, said: "This is a momentous occasion in the history of education in Warwickshire. The announcement ends months of uncertainty and sets the seal of a structure plan that will see our schools through to the next century and beyond.

"Given the anxieties and strong feelings expressed during the past three years it is now time for all concerned to come together and work co-operatively in the best interests of our children's education."

Plans to reorganise schools in Warwickshire were first launched in October 1993 by the then county education officer, Margaret Maden. During the consultation period that followed, 300 public meetings were held and more than 1,700 letters received by officials from schools, communities and individuals.

John Airey, chairman of the county's education committee, said: "This puts Warwickshire at the forefront of education authorities nationally as major investment in our schools will now take place."

Tony Webster, president of the Society of Education Officers, said hat the Secretary of State's approval would be heartening and encouraging to other authorities faced with a similar task.

A spokesman for the Association of County Councils, said: "It is encouraging that authority-wide schools reorganisation plans can take place without being impeded by moves towards grant-maintained status."

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