A selection of letters from the Bury Free Press of Friday, November 29.
PROBELMS WITH TICKET MACHINE
I just wondered if any of your readers share the same frustrations as myself about the weekly car park ticket machine in the Parkway multi-storey in Bury St Edmunds.
I have to leave home 15 minutes earlier on the day I need to buy my ticket. The ticket machine rarely has signal for credit card payments. The office is never open if you have a problem, which means you have to walk back to the car park in your lunch hour.
Today I had to pay cash because the machine wasn’t working again. As I was entering the money, I got to £3 and out popped a ticket – this was no good, when I wanted a weekly ticket, so once again I had to walk over the office in my lunchtime (this is becoming my usual regime on a Monday).
I am not an expert but feel the location of the machine is wrong – it should have been placed higher up in the multi-storey or perhaps another machine provided. I do know that the phone signal on the ground floor is not the best and I assume this is why the machine has regular network issues. I work in retail and several of my colleagues have experienced similar frustrations and have even been late for work.
I appreciate the opportunity to have discounted weekly parking but surely it should be a simple process to pay for a parking ticket; unless it is designed to prevent too many people from taking advantage of the benefit!
-- Name and address supplied
GOVE TRIGGERED OUR PROBLEMS
Back in 2010 we got a new Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove. Almost immediately he introduced the idea of greater parental choice and schools being able to opt out of local authority control and become academies. Horringer Court and Westley middles saw this as a chance for survival as everyone involved in education in Bury knew that SOR was coming our way.
Desperate for his flagship policy to succeed, the early applications were waved through quickly. It wasn’t until late in 2011 that Mr Gove realised the implications of his actions on areas that hadn’t yet converted to two-tier and so applications from other middle schools in Suffolk were rejected. By then, of course, the damage was done in Bury.
Once it became clear to the Academy Trust that people saw through their alleged ‘all-through’ model, they realised that there was a very real danger that their two middle schools would not be viable. Middle schools get nearly £4,000 per pupil per year. They don’t have to lose many before they start having to shed staff.
So, in yet another attempt to hang on to an out-dated three-tier system they changed their admissions policy to only guarantee places to children who had been to Horringer Court or Westley. Dr Fletcher has said that if they don’t get the numbers they need at these middle schools, they will bus them in from Newmarket and other towns. So we end up with a scenario where children who could live miles away from Bury have an automatic right to a place at County Upper, while those who live accross the road won’t. Where is their choice?
-- David Spart, Bury St Edmunds
YOU GET WHAT YOU VOTE FOR
We had local elections in Suffolk in May of this year. It was clearly in the Conservative group’s manifesto to proceed with the Schools Organisational Review and move to two-tier.
This was a real chance to influence the debate. The people of Suffolk who did vote, overwhelmingly elected the Tories.
You get what you vote for and if you don’t vote, you can’t moan.
-- Richard Webb, Bradfield St Clare
UNDUE PRESSURE ON PARENTS
I attended the Academy Trust meeting at The Apex with interest. Although Richard Fletcher gave a good presentation, I was disappointed that the four heads didn’t speak. As a parent, it would have been good to hear their passion and enthusiasm for a system they so strongly believe in.
I came away feeling concerned by what I had heard. Have the trust ever asked/consulted the parents of their feeder primary schools as to what they want for their children? On the whole the parents I speak to want to keep their children at primary until the end of Year 6 and then move them straight to County Upper. It is not really the ‘all-through’ model they are interested in, after all it is only all-through for a small minority, they just want their child to go to County Upper.
Also, there is undue pressure being put on parents to move their children when they really don’t want to, as we are being told if we don’t transfer them at Yearr 5, we won’t get a place later as the schools will be filled with children from Newmarket and Mildenhall. How is that working in the best interests of the children of Bury St Edmunds?
-- A Jones, via email
I attended the recent Academy Trust meeting at The Apex. I have to say, apart from being thoroughly underwhelmed by their presentation, I was amazed by the lack of even what appeared to be a well-thought through plan for how to engage with other schools which were in the pyramid that feeds into County Upper. What is more worrying was the desperate and slightly bullying tone they took, saying if you don’t send you kids to one of our middle schools you won’t get in. I’m not prepared to be threatened like that and definitely will not now be applying to send my children to County Upper.
-- Mike Jones, via email
WHERE WAS COUNCIL REPRESENTATIVE?
I have just read on a news website that, with regard to the proposed Schools Organisational Review, ‘Lisa Chambers, from Suffolk County Council, is keen to hear from both sides of the argument’.
That being the case, how strange that she was unable to spare one single council representative to attend the open meeting in The Apex last night. Had she have done so, she would have noted the large degree of support that was shown for the All Through Schooling system being proposed as an alternative to 2-tier.
-- Jan Wade, Ashfield Green
CHURCH VOTED AGAINST ACADEMY STATUS
One thing that I haven’t seen mentioned in the SOR discussions is that Barrow Primary, although a part of the Academy Trust, isn’t actually an academy. As a church school, it needs the support of the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Board of Education to convert. Despite applying, the request was unanimously refused by the board as it was seen as a thinly veiled attempt to hang on to the three-tier system. The board, which supports the 89 church schools in the diocese, is fully behind the move to a two-tier system.
-- Stephen Frost, Bury St Edmunds
SYSTEM IS TOO FRAGMENTED
Your letter writers in recent weeks have borne witness to the increased fragmentation of the education system in Bury St Edmunds.
To use a computer analogy this fragmentation has led to inefficiency, reduced performance and loss of memory.
The mantra of the new educational establishment is ‘choice, diversity and autonomy’. But for ‘choice’ read privilege, for ‘diversity’ read exclusivity, and for ‘autonomy’ read self-interest.
Choice of school is often only available to parents with the privilege of having the time and wherewithal to transport their children to the school of their choice. Many parents are simply unable to afford to take their children to schools the other side of town.
Diversity has led to the marginalisation of the LEA and a serious democratic deficit as the vacuum is filled by a plethora of academy associations and free schools led by unelected headteachers and market-orientated administrators. Schools become increasingly exclusive rather than inclusive. Neighbourhoods, like the Howard area in Bury, are cold-shouldered by the new local middle-class elites. The result is increased inequality and social segregation.
Autonomy has led to a loss in broad-sweep planning as the new school alliances pursue their narrow self-interests. The elite schools construct their own agendas and adopt an attitude of ‘let the devil take the hindmost’. Competition displaces cooperation and effective leadership, while morale declines and performance suffers.
We need to restore our memory. What were the circumstances in the past that led to Suffolk being a flagship education authority, where children thrived and other counties looked on with envy at our success?
To continue the computer analogy: we need to ‘de-frag’ the system and articulate all those elements that provided a basis for our former success.
We need to reconnect education to democracy so that our local authority has a key role in planning, supporting and monitoring our local schools. We need to reject the increased marketization of our education system and reclaim for parents that sense of community we remember from the past when we sent our children to good local state schools fully integrated with our own neighbourhoods.
-- Christopher Bornett, Felsham