Free schools hurting attainment says Labour

AlasdairRossSuffolk 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.

Michael Gove visits Chantry HSThe 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.

Portfolio Holder Colin Noble

Portfolio Holder Colin Noble

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.

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8 Responses

  1. My comment that many thought that Suffolk was happy to see a number of their Primary schools fail and become academies was not a slur aimed at County Officers. This issue concerns many in education and I was only told last night by a former head from a school in Ipswich that they believed this may be the County plan. But this is not a direction being forced through by officers but Tory County Cllrs – as less schools means a smaller education department – which means less officers – which still seems to be the main policy of the County Tory party. So I would ask you to think again before accusing me of making a slur against County Officers – the last thing I would do to a workforce that is already demoralised by NSD and the current Tory polict (NDS 2 but don’y call it NSD)
    I have a passion for education, but to see Suffolk third from bottom in a league table is not great reading – but we hear little from the County Council and I have not heard one Suffolk Tory MP so far speak out about these statistics – at least Cllr Cenci has commented- Gummer, Coffey , Hancock have been silent – are they happy we are third from bottom? Are they going to speak to Mr Gove nad get extra assistance. Cllr Cenci talks about good Heads and good teachers- we have them already .
    As a Govenor, we used to have to prepare our budget 3 years in advance, we still can’t set next years budget as the County still can’t say how much money we will exactly get from the Govt per child next May
    No where did I say that council tax should rise, but if the answer was to use money to gain help for the schools that need it most- do you think the Tories would agree to it if it meant 50p a week on our council tax bill? Not sure I think they would agree to it- in an election year..

    • We’re about to write a second article on this as Mr Gummer has just said, on BBC Radio Suffolk, that the reason Suffolk’s local authority primary schools are where they are is because of the poor Local Authority over many years.

      Who do you think carries out policies laid down by councillors? If Tories on the Cabinet did have some super secret conspiracy to cause schools to fail, the officers would simply refuse to carry it out. Don’t be so ridiculous.

      The County can’t say how much money you will get from the Government for the same reason that Cllr Cook couldn’t tell us on Wednesday night whether you would be freezing council tax – although SCC did manage to say that despite not knowing the settlement. 3 year budgeting is one thing, but it depends on knowing how much money the country has to spend. Given the disaster zone that the economy is, following Liam Byrne’s “joke” that there was no money left, it is hardly surprising is it.

      You know as well as I do that a small rise in Council Tax will COST money, because of the terms of the council tax freeze grant…

  2. I repeat , I did not mean to attack County Officers – I feel for them when they ahve Graham Newman doing his best at the smae time Noble 9a senior Cabinet member) attacking schools in his area

  3. One thing that stands out from this discussion in the comments is how Labour councillors worship officers. And if anyone suggests they don’t I can see the panic on their faces. Why is that so?

    Officers in my opinion are servants and should be seen and not heard unless spoken to. Hence they are civil SERVANTS. It’s the way democracy works: the politicians decide, the officers implement.

    As if Labour see the officers as part of their party the way they defend them. Can’t think why!

  4. So Ipswich Spy inform raeders that I placed a slur against officers and then a laeding Tory states we love officers – and that same leading Ipswich Tory states we should treat them like Servants! Confused?

    • Accept that you didn’t mean to slur the officers, just that you didn’t consider the consequences of your conspiracy theory.

  5. I have never commented on this site, but I find the quality of debate on this important issue very poor. It should not be a party political football and all parties should desist from sniping.

    The reasons for low attainment are complex and differ in each part of Suffolk. The low funding given per capita to Suffolk primary schools (the Government report just over £3300 per capita per annum to my son’s school) will be a factor; as are the high number of small schools (which have the same level of management obligations but few staff); the historic low educational attainment of parents and grandparents in parts of Suffolk; the LEA focussing on necessary, but timeconsuming, school reorganisation; the stultifying effect of, in turn, Ofsted, the bureaucratic demands of the Dept of Education, SATS and the National Curriculum on genuine innovation; and low expectations of pupils by some teachers.

    From my experience, as a mother, the mentor of young volunteers and with working with young offenders, is that good school performance derives from a combination of genuine self confidence, good concentration, curiosity and emotional resiliance. We shoud be working on innovative schemes to foster those elements rather the outdated Gradgrindian obsessions with rote learning.

    Given Local Management of Schools has been around for years, comments positive or negative about LEA officers are pointless because they only have a marginal impact. Changing things will only happen at school level; and it will require greater funding and positive support for experimenting.

    As a Ipswich parent, what is the most galling is seeing local politicians not pulling together to pursuade Mr Gove to devote a fraction of the time,funding and effort into our schools that he is putting into pet projects (like the Bungay free school). It is like our children are not important.

  6. [...] Suffolk County Council have ridiculed suggestions that recent figures showing poor performance in primary schools are down to to the four new Free Schools that have opened in the county; suggestions made by Ipswich Labour councillor Alasdair Ross last week. [...]

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