MP urges caution over sale of school to sect

An MP has urged education chiefs not to act too hastily in deciding the future of a defunct middle school at the centre of a church sect bid.

Tim Yeo, MP for South Suffolk, has criticised the short notice given to residents by Suffolk County Council to come up with alternative uses for Stoke-by-Nayland Middle School when it closes in July.

The council is considering a bid from the Plymouth Brethren – a Christian evangelical group – which wants to set up an independent day school for 200 children aged three to 13 in September.

Mr Yeo said he is due to meet senior councillors and officials at the county council to discuss the school sale and he will ask them not to make any rash or quick decisions.

He said: “I have stated to the county council that I think no hasty decisions should be made about this application.

“I have asked them not to make a decision until I have met them in a couple of weeks’ time.”

Mr Yeo said he did not believe that the two weeks’ notice given by Suffolk County Council for residents to come up with alternative uses for the site was enough.

He said: “This is a process which should be undertaken in an orderly fashion. Why were we suddenly told there was a limited time for applications to be received?”

Mr Yeo said he has been consulted by another group wanting to use it for educational purposes but says he cannot say who the group is until its application is made public. “Using this site for educational use has my full support,” he added.

Rumours that Sudbury’s Thomas Gainsborough School would be interested in the site have been quashed by headteacher Wayne Lloyd. He said: “It is perfectly true that I met Tim Yeo recently and we discussed the site. But we are not involved in anything – I have enough to do with this school.”

Suffolk County Council revealed it had been approached by the religious group, which has 46,000 followers in the UK, earlier this month to buy the school and its nine-acre field, and said it was “minded to consider” the bid once it had received any alternative offers by March 12.

A council spokesman said: “We have received one formal bid to purchase the site, which we will now look at in more detail.

“This bid was made by the Larchcroft Education Trust on behalf of the Plymouth Brethren. If the sale is agreed, the school plans to open in September 2013 for approximately 200 pupils in the first instance.”

The council said public consultation on the disposal of middle schools normally starts once they close.