IT'S THE culmination of nearly three years of planning that will change the face of Southampton's secondary school education system forever.
Four schools are to close their doors for the last time at the end of this term to be replaced by two new academies.
Three of the city's secondaries will go from single to mixed sex schools and two others will increase their pupil numbers.
As 150 collective years come to an end that has seen generations of school children educated at the four closing schools, preparations are being finalised for the opening of the city's two new academies.
The changes will see the closure of:
- Millbrook Community School (394 Pupils)
- Oaklands Community School (617 Pupils)
- Woolston Community School (680 Pupils)
- Grove Park School (486 Pupils)
In their place two new academies will open - state funded independent schools that fall outside the council's control. They will be run by Oasis Community Learning and backed by Southampton YMCA and the Winchester Church of England Diocese. They will be called:
- Oasis Academy Mayfield - a 900-pupil school on the Grove Park site (Years ten and eleven will use the former Woolston School building while years seven to nine will use the former Grove Park site until 2011)
- Oasis Academy Lord's Hill - a 900-pupil school on the Oaklands site although initially years seven and eight will be based at the former Millbrook site and years nine, ten and eleven at the Oaklands site. The ultimate aim is to rebuild the school on the site of the council- owned Five Acres Field, also known as Lordshill Recreation Ground, although plans are still in the pipeline and would be subject to planning permission.
Three schools are to turn from single sex to mixed sex schools. They are:
- Bellemoor School is to turn from a boys' to a mixed sex school and will be known as Upper Shirley High when it opens in September. It will have capacity for 750 pupils.
- Regents Park School is to turn from a girls' to a mixed sex school with 750 pupils on roll. Plans are in the pipeline for it to move next to St Mark's Junior School in Shirley although any plan would be subject to planning permission.
- Sholing Technology College is to turn from a girls' to a mixed sex school with capacity for 1,050 pupils on roll.
And two consistently oversubscribed schools are to increase their pupil numbers:
- Bitterne Park is to increase its size from 1,335 to 1,500 pupils
- Redbridge Community School is to increase its size from 900 to 1050 pupils.
The schools' shake-up comes after more than two years of public meetings, consultations and dozens of different recommendations designed to remove around 1,000 surplus places and improve educational standards.
The city's GCSE results and national test results for 11-to-14- year-olds are well below the national average.
Education bosses, who carried out the review called "Learning Futures", hope to eventually create so called "learning campuses"
providing learning opportunities for children from primary school age through to adulthood on the same or nearby sites.
Their plans have been further bolstered by a government windfall in the region of £100m that will help to pay for the transformation of five city secondary schools. Details of exactly where the money is due to go will be finalised this month but could see schools flattened and rebuilt, or undergo massive makeovers in an attempt to give pupils a better learning environment.
Plans to rebuild Regent's Park School, Chamberlayne Park School, Bellemoor School and The Cedar School were all outlined in the city's original bid for the cash.
The Polygon School, Bitterne Park School, St Anne's and St George's were also earmarked for refurbishment.
During the next three years the academies will have new buildings largely paid for by the government.
However, the academies have already cost Southampton City Council £400,000 more than first thought, bringing its total spending to £805,000.
Education chiefs have blamed inaccurate initial Government estimates for a doubling of the costs for the design and project management of the buildings.
The government is covering the estimated cost of the £19m Lord's Hill and £15m Mayfield academies.
And a Government environmental grant will cover the cost of new signs and other alterations at the four closing schools while the council is make adjustments at the new mixed schools such as building boys' and girls' toilets during the summer holidays.
Councillor Peter Baillie, Southampton's Cabinet member for children's services, said: "The city council has an important role in creating the academies that will be run by Oasis Community Learning.
"We will be working closely with Oasis Community Learning and the school communities to make sure they have new buildings that meet their aspirations for high educational standards."
Cllr Baillie praised the professionalism and dedication of staff and pupils at the four closing schools.
He said: "This year must have been really difficult for them. I would like to pay tribute to the staff and pupils who have kept the schools going. We are quietly confident about their exam results and that is a tremendous affirmation of all the staff 's hardwork in keeping standards up."