Suffolk County Council was under fire today after primary schools in the county slumped in the league tables, with only Kingston Upon Tyne and the Medway Towns producing lower results. Whilst two Ipswich schools were amongst those who could celebrate, an Ipswich councillor hit out at Tories who preferred to promote Free Schools rather than concentrating on those that are still local authority controlled.
Labour Cllr Alasdair Ross claimed that the fact that Suffolk’s schools have slumped towards the bottom of the league tables is evidence that cuts by Suffolk County Council and the Department for Education is causing problems in primary education. He also claimed that Free Schools, introduced through parental choice, are harming Suffolk’s primary schools.
The Free Schools were a key plank of Tory election plans, and were introduced by Michael Gove just two years ago. It is difficult to see how the limited number of free schools can have such a large effect on the existing schools, especially as most primary schools do not have a free school in their area. For instance Cllr Ross is a Governor at Sidegate Lane Primary School, yet there is no free school anywhere near Ipswich.
Cllr Ross also seemed to suggest that a rise in council tax would be the answer to improving standards, suggesting that the Tories only concern was for a freeze in council tax. Yet Tory councillor Nadia Cenci scorned his linking of the two subjects, pointing out that much can be done without just throwing money at the problem. She suggested that the problem was tied to aspiration, although it is difficult to see how greater aspiration in primary age children would be the answer. She also suggested that the quality of teachers, heads and parents had a big effect on the results.Cllr Ross attacked leading Tories for supporting Free Schools at the expense of Local Authority schools, singling out Adult & Community Services chief Colin Noble, and former Police Authority Chairman Joanna Spicer. He suggests that Michael Gove is using Suffolk as a laboratory to carry out an education experiment, with Cllrs Noble and Spicer supporting him, along with some Tory MPs.
Perhaps the most controversial claim from Cllr Ross was that Tory run Suffolk County Council may want schools to fail so that they can force them to become academies. This isn’t the first time this allegation has been made, but it isn’t likely to stand up to scrutiny; whilst Tory policy is to speed up the Academy program that Labour started, nobody in the education department at Suffolk County Council wants to see children failing. Frankly the allegation is a slur on every single officer at Suffolk County Council. If that is Cllr Ross’ attitude towards officers, it is no surprise he won’t be standing for County Council elections next May.
Suffolk’s results were not completely a wash out. St Mark’s Catholic Primary School, in Stone Lodge Lane West, is the best primary school in Suffolk, with all of their pupils achieving at least Level 4 in both English and Maths, whilst The Oaks Primary School, in Aster Road, is the most improved school in the county, with results improving by 37% in the last three years.
On a personal note, I was really pleased to see my alma mater, Kyson Primary School in Woodbridge, is amongst the 200 most improved schools in the country. Given the large proportion of children there are from hard pressed backgrounds it just shows that poverty should not be used as an excuse by anyone for poor standards in their schools.
Filed under: Government, Public Sector Cuts, Suffolk County Council Tagged: | Alasdair Ross, Colin Noble, Free Schools, Joanna Spicer, Kyson Primary School, Michael Gove, Nadia Cenci, St Mark's Catholic Primary School, The Oaks Primary School