A selection of letters from the Bury Free Press of Friday, November 11, making points about the reorganisation of schools in Bury St Edmunds.
ADMISSIONS POLICY IS NOT FAIR
I write to raise my concerns about the position of schools on the Howard and Mildenhall estates. County Upper School changed its admissions policy last year to give priority to children attending schools in the academy trust. This means that children attending Howard Middle have less of a chance of attending their local outstanding school. We hear a lot of the ‘All-through Academy’ which is not an accurate name as the only children who can go ‘all-through’ are the children from one village school on the outskirts of Bury. It can hardly be claimed that this approach gives County Upper its great success when the children currently achieving these marvellous results are children who have been through a non-all through system. The consultation around SOR is an important one but whatever the outcome the decision of the ‘trust’ to change its admissions policy to the detriment of the Howard children is in place now and will remain so.
-- Marie Bennett, Chairman of governors, Howard Primary School
TWO SYSTEMS WILL BE DIVISIVE
It is sad to see that there is so much conflict about the future of our schools. I cannot see the wisdom of the schools in this area being different from the rest of the county – and most of the country. I also question the wisdom of having one group of schools branch off into an all-through school as this is likely to be divisive and limit the choices of pupils from other schools.
I was living in Bury when the three-tier system was introduced. Parents viewed it as a response in Suffolk to the Government’s expectations of better curriculum provision for Years 5 and 6. Some counties – and most of Suffolk provided improvements to the primary schools. It appears that in West Suffolk the middle schools were built as a solution to avoid spending money on all the small village schools. The middle schools proved to be good education providers for Years 5-8 and were gradually accepted by parents and teachers. Reservations did remain about the wisdom of transferring pupils twice – the second, at 13, just as they were beginning the run-up to their examination courses.
When the Key Stages in education were introduced, it became apparent that the three-tier structure was incompatible with this. Many schools in other parts of the
reverted to two tiers.
Statistics have shown that children make better progress in a two-tier system. Now Suffolk has sensibly decided that the schools in this area must conform to the pattern across the rest of the county and country. It is very painful to see our excellent middle schools closing. However, most parents and teachers recognise that this is right for the children. This is where our concerns should be rather than in the future of individual schools.
I am also concerned that teachers in middle schools are becoming increasingly
disadvantaged professionally as there are so few schools remaining in that sector.
In my opinion the change to a three-tier system has proved to be an expensive and unhelpful move in the long term. It was opposed then by people who do not like change – just as today there are those who want to keep their middle schools at all
costs. I am sure that middle school staff feel under pressure and threatened by the changes. But we must always put the children’s needs first. In the long term this painful process will be worthwhile.
-- Alison Flath, Bury St Edmunds
GET INDEPENDENT VIEW ON SOR
At the SOR consultation meeting at St James Middle School, I was struck by how much the speaker, from the local authority, made of the need to make the school structures align with the rest of the country but gave virtually nothing in the way of evidence that a change to two-tier would improve educational standards for the children – specifically in Bury schools.
The parents in my round table discussion group were anxious and a few were pretty angry and the local authority facilitator did a good job of ensuring everyone had a chance to speak. My overall impression was that parents did not see the need for the change change given that the upper schools are doing so well, were very confused about how all the small primary schools could be expanded and could see no way of squeezing hundreds of extra children on to the King Edward VI site. However, they assumed that it was a done deal, and so focussed on how to protect their own children through the mayhem. However, it was then
noted that the St James governing body, uniquely in the Bury Schools Partnership, could request that the Schools Adjudicator be consulted; or the local authority could itself allow
the Schools Adjudicator to participate. Surely the involvement of an independent national educational expert looking at this controversial plan must be highly desirable. What better way to assuage serious public concern?
-- M Southcroft, Wickhambrook
LET PARENTS SHAPE SYSTEM
Cllr David Nettleton’s approach to parent choice in schooling is like a breath of fresh air amid the stale dogmatism of Suffolk County Council (Bury Free Press, November 1). He sees the serious risks to education standards implicit in the single option of two-tier offered by Suffolk County Council, which would provide 535 primary school places when there would be only 340 secondary places. The reality on the ground of this is that Years 5 and 6 in the town’s schools will have a total of 400 unneeded spaces, spaces that can move around between schools year-to-year. That is a management nightmare and carries the serious risk of destabilising all primary schools in the run up to the national KS2 tests.
Consider the traditional feeder primary schools for Westley and Horringer Court: Risby, Sexton’s Manor, Ickworth Park, St Edmundsbury and Westgate. If an appreciable number of parents choose to jump out of these primary schools into the Academy Trust – and Mrs Neale cites evidence that this will happen in ‘droves’ – they will very likely do it at the end of Year 4. If they risk leaving it until the end of Year 6 they may not get in at all because, if parents can be trusted to follow success, other primary schools will lose children to the Academy Trust as parents seek to lock into the best performing pyramid as early as possible. And, of course, once in Westley or Horringer Court, regardless of postcode, the child is currently guaranteed a place at County Upper.
So, the likely consequence of all this is that we end up with newly enlarged primary schools having half-empty classrooms and reduced income for Years 5 and 6. This is highly likely to destabilise planning and teaching in the run up to the national tests at the end of KS2. How does that improve educational standards?
Cllr Nettleton has looked at the evidence, listened to the parents, weighed the arguments and now seeks to design a school system shaped by parents – which is how the Department for Education thinks things should be done. If only more of our politicians in Suffolk were like Cllr David Nettleton.
-- Paul Oldman, Bury St Edmunds
NO SHORTFALL IN SCHOOL PLACES
I write following your article about secondary school places in Bury St Edmunds (Bury Free Press, November 1).
I believe it rather implies that there is a ‘shortfall’ in secondary school places in Bury. This simply isn’t the case.
County Upper School provides an outstanding education for young people aged 13 to 18. I would have been delighted if they had wanted to offer this quality of teaching and learning to young people in Bury from the age of 11 and would have worked with them to enable this to happen. However, the governing body has decided it would prefer to work with its partner schools in a different way to raise standards. As academies and voluntary schools, they are entitled to do this and I wish them and their students well.
Regardless of this, the places available in these schools are an integral part of the overall provision in the town and it would be foolish and unnecessarily costly to ignore these places within the Academy Trust when planning for the future.
The other Bury schools have a different view of how schools should be organised and want to develop their partnership around the two-tier system which is the basis of curriculum and educational planning across almost all of the rest of the UK. Most authorities that had three-tier schools have now moved back to a two-tier system and are now out performing Suffolk.
In planning the new pattern of schools, we must make sure that parents who want their children to remain in four-11 primary schools until the age of 11 can do so. We expect that once parents see the progress their children make in all-through primary schools this will become the preferred option. Equally, we recognise that some parents may prefer to transfer their children to the two middle school academies at the end of Year 4. Parents would have the choice of applying for these places. Parents need not be concerned that there will not be enough secondary school places in Bury St Edmunds and I hope they will welcome the additional options available to them.
-- Cllr Lisa Chambers, Cabinet member for education, skills, and young people, Suffolk County Council