Suffolk Primary school results row rumbles on

Graham NewmanSuffolk 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.

Suffolk County Council Education Porfolio Holder, Graham Newman, told Ipswich Spy that “as none of Suffolk’s four free schools serve the primary age group, and three of them only opened in September, I have no idea how Cllr Ross thinks they can be affecting the results of Key Stage 2 tests taken much earlier in the year. Maybe the old socialist dogma – that only local authorities can (and must) run schools – has clouded his assessment of the situation.”

He went on to add “What we have seen since these free schools have been set up – all serving the 11-16 age group – is the local authority and academy schools nearby rising to the challenge, and in some instances, outperforming their previous best results. Just four years ago we had eight of Suffolk’s forty secondary schools where young people had a less than one-in-three chance of leaving statutory education with five decent GCSEs including Maths & English. No one can doubt we can, and must, do better – as in the Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, where four out of five young people achieve that measure. I believe that Suffolk’s proportion will be seen to have improved when the Department for Education publishes individual schools’ GCSE results within the next few weeks.

“The great irony about Cllr Ross’ statement is that it was a Labour Government which first gave us academy schools during the last decade, which like Free Schools are run independently of local authorities. Is he proposing that Ed Miliband’s Labour party would ‘re-nationalise’ them all, in the unlikely event it is ever trusted to run this country again?”

Cllr Ross had suggested that one of the reasons Suffolk’s Primary Schools had come joint third bottom in national league tables was that free schools were taking resources away from the county council run schools.

Meanwhile Tory MP Ben Gummer was clear that the responsibility for the poor results lay at the door of the County Council, which he said had been running schools badly for a long time. In an interview with BBC presenter Mark Murphy, he told listeners:

“When you say that Suffolk is third from the bottom, there’s a reason for that, it’s because they have been poorly run by the local authority for a long time, we’ve got to be blunt about it. That means improving our schools. There are some fantastic schools in Ipswich which are really driving the way. I think you will begin to see Ipswich at the head of pulling this county out of the educational doldrums, it is the biggest consumer of my time because I am passionate about getting schools sorted.”

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5 Responses

  1. Suffolk was never keen on any academys and only started to introduce them when they were to be penalised by the Westminster for not opening them.
    So Cllr Newman is now keen on ‘Free’ Schools? – Surprised about that aS he certainly wasn’t when they first started – read back through James Hargreaves blog and you will see that Cllr Newman was loathe to say too much on ‘Free’ Schools as he was not as one wIth Cllr Spicer and others on ‘Free’ schools.
    Mr Gummer is right the blame lies at the door of the County Council- so is Cllr Newman going to attack Mr Gummer? Did not think so.
    When Middle Schools were got rid of the sale of their buildings would have raised money to be used on education or the building would have been handed over to a senior school providing more space, instead they have been given away to ‘Free’ schools. Taking away money that could have been used to improve primary school education.
    Maybe you should ask Cllr Newman when he suddenly became a fan of ‘Free’ schools

    • Alasdair there are 4 free schools in Suffolk. None of them are primary school age. Only one was open when these figures came out. How exactly do you think they are taking away money that could have been used to improve primary school education?

      Are you aware of the difference between Capital budgets and Revenue budgets? The sale of any Middle School (vociferously opposed by Labour councillors) would produce a capital receipt. That would have to be spent on capital programmes, not on revenue. If you don’t understand the difference I worry for your ability to hold the administration to account – your role as a backbencher. The SOR programme was never about generating capital receipts, and many of the middle school sites are being reused by either the primary school or the secondary school. The idea that FOUR free schools has made a huge difference to the county wide education system is just ludicrous Alasdair. You are flogging a dead horse here.

      Suffolk County Council has failed as a local education authority for 30 years. To be honest Graham Newman is just about the first councillor in all that time to actually do something about it and challenge the status quo. Rather than seeking to trash him just because he is a Tory, why don’t you get over your internal prejudices and acknowledge that, for once, Suffolk County Council has an education portfolio holder who actually genuinely cares about the standards improving.

      • Thank you for your comments and I do believe I do understand the difference between capital and revunue budgets.Many primary schools are in desperate need of re-builds or new classrooms – could have used an increased capital budget for those improvements.
        I do have time for Graham Newman, just slightly sad that he is now agreeing with Spicer, Noble and Hancock when he previously was fighting against ‘Free’ schools.
        There may only currently be 4 ‘Free’ schools in the county but there are proposals for many more and the County education Department have spent far too much time and effort (and money) dealing with these proposals when that time could be better spent improving and helping primary schools.
        I was always against keeping Middle Schools and for once I agree with our Tory MP- The blame lays at the door of the County Council and find it strange that Cllr Cenci does not agree with him but maybe now that we find she is not even a school Governor may explain why she does not understand the pressure our primarys scho9ols are under..

      • There are hundreds of district councillors in Suffolk. The majority aren’t school Governors. You say she “isn’t even a school Governor” as though it would be expected that she be one.

        You may be a very good Governor, with a great relationship with your headteacher and a good primary school, but in my experience those schools that are failing will have fundamental problems between the head and the governors. If the governors are simply yes men (or yes women) for the head, they will not be helping their school. Equally if they are seeking to undermine the head with the DfE they will also not be helping their school.

        I am not quite so convinced that all the blame lies at the door of county. With schools like The Oaks and St Marks here in Ipswich, pulling children from far less affluent backgrounds than some primary schools, amongst the most successful schools, it is clear that if you are doing the right things, you will succeed despite SCC. The problem comes when a school isn’t doing so well, and problems occur. Schools where the governance is poor, and big changes need to be made, have not been properly supported by SCC in the past.

        Mr Gummer has always been very clear that he believes that SCC were appalling historically, but that Graham Newman is improving things. He has reiterated to us that he believes that the county is now on track to improve. If you listened to Gummer’s interview on BBC Radio Suffolk (still available via listen again at bbc.co.uk/suffolk) you would hear the passion in his voice when he says that he is committed to improving education here in Ipswich. Bad schools didn’t suddenly appear in 2010, or even in 2005 when the Tories took over SCC from Labour/Lib Dem control. Turning this round is like changing direction on a supertanker. It takes everyone working together, rather than sniping at each other. And a genuine admission by all sides that everyone, including Labour, got education wrong here in Ipswich.

  2. I bet at least half Ipswich Labour councillors would rather that St. Marks be reopened after Christmas as Stone Lodge Lane Community Primary. They’d probably all be surprised when the grades start plummeting as well.

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