GEOFF BARTON: Celebrating a bigger partnership

A Personal View
A Personal View

Usually my monthly column brings to your breakfast table nothing more than a weary rant, a few hundred words bemoaning some madcap aspect of the government’s education policy or a heartfelt pot-shot at yet another pronouncement by a politician or quango chief.

I do it knowing that, like anyone who writes in a newspaper, my inky phrases will inevitably end their days wrapped around some steaming chips or lining the sordid base of a hamster’s cage.

There’s something grounding about this process – knowing that our lofty thoughts will be reduced to something so basic and ultimately disposable. It’s the circle of newspaper life.

But this month I’m in an unexpectedly rant-free mode. I’m not having a go at someone in power. I’m not lampooning a new policy announcement. That’s because quietly, without fuss or fanfare, something extraordinary has been taking place in education around here in the past few weeks, and I think it needs celebrating.

It’s an understated momentum for change will affect the vast majority of the four-to-18 year olds taught in our first, middle, special and upper schools in Bury and its surrounding villages.

Last month, the three Catholic schools in the town – St Edmundsbury Primary, St Louis Middle and St Benedict’s Upper School – quietly but significantly joined the Bury Schools Partnership. It means that there are now 20 schools actively working together to raise standards and to create new opportunities for pupils – irrespective of their age and social background. It makes ours one of the largest and most ambitious education partnerships in the country.

Of course, this part of Suffolk has always been one of the top-performing pockets of the county. It still is. The middle school system has served us well and many local people will feel an understandable emotional attachment to a system that has been in place for over forty years.

But times change, and our children are being measured against the 99 per cent of their peers taught in primary schools across England until the age of 11 and who avoid the debilitating scramble of changing school between three different school sites and three different sets of teachers.

Some parents were initially unconvinced about that councillors had taken the decision to move to two-tier education. But many say they can now see why it’s the prevailing, long-established model across the rest of England. In fact, it’s the kind of schooling model most of us ourselves experienced. And, in Bury, parents will still have a choice over the type of system they choose for their school, including state or private education.

What has struck me is the support of parents for the principles and values of the Bury Schools Partnership. As headteachers, we don’t take this for granted. Children have just one opportunity for an education that opens the doors into their futures. It’s why all the Partnership heads are committed to collaboration over competition.

And suddenly it’s getting exciting.

Current Year 4 pupils in their various primary schools will, in less than a year’s time, be the pioneers. They will be the first generation of Year 5 pupils to remain in their current primary school and enjoy the benefits of a rich primary education, with its stronger core of reading, writing, mathematics and science supplemented by an unprecedented range of opportunities that one of the biggest school partnerships in England can bring.

They will cook, do scientific experiments, play sport for fun and in competition with other schools. They will have the opportunity to play in orchestra or sing in choirs and produce amazing artwork. They will have the chance to learn languages, to dance, to work with older pupils, to develop and grow and develop their character.

Working with a great team of colleagues in Hardwick, St James and St Louis Middle Schools, and across all the Partnership schools, we are shaping a new educational vision which will give our children the best opportunities of their lives.

That’s why today I’m not ranting. Instead I’m celebrating a ground-breaking partnership of 20 schools.

And I couldn’t be prouder that my own school is part of it.