The case for ‘all-through’ schools

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We now know the true financial cost of the county council’s ill thought out policy of closing middle schools: £103 million by 2013, with further millions to be spent by the time Bury goes two-tier in 2016 (Bury Free Press, April 6). This does not, of course, count the other costs: the distress of parents and children forced into a system that here in Bury they have decisively rejected, the uncertainty experienced by middle schools with the entirely predictable result that many of the most able teachers have already left their posts with consequent staffing problems, the potential damage to communities centred on those schools and the worry of how the extra children in primary and upper schools are to be accommodated in straitened times. All this for what? The county council’s decision was certainly not evidence-based: for example, in 2009, of the five worst performers in Suffolk at Key stage 2, three were in the two-tier system. When it comes to the really important exams, GCSE and A-levels, the 2011 GCSE results show that two Suffolk schools were in the worst performing 200 in the country, both, Thurieston High and Holywelis High, in the two-tier system. In Bury however, still firmly based in the three-tier system, St Benecicts was amongst the top 200 in the country and King Edwards and County Upper both had significantly better performances not only than the Suffolk average, but also the national average. At A-level too, all three schools had higher points counts than the Suffolk and national averages. What could have been achieved in every school in Suffolk if those millions had been spent on improving the existing provision?

But we can always do better for our young people; our task now is to do that with reduced resources. The Bury St Edmunds Academy believes this can best be achieved by moving to an all through school comprised of what are presently primary, middle and upper schools. There is no real educational basis for separating children purely by age; all-through education enables a school to respond to chiidren’s educational needs in a more flexible and pupil centred way, what has been called ‘stage, not age’. There are considerable advantages in making each school’s resources, its teachers and facilities, available to many more pupils. The continuity which an all-through school offers will, we believe, help those pupils whose learning is affected by the move from one school to another and better support all pupils’ learning. The combined leadership will not only be more efficient but will also support raising standards in all parts of the school. Obviously, there is also an opportunity to reduce costs through shared systems and combined purchasing.

Suffolk County Council and, it appears, our MP, have set their faces against all-through schools. Why? Where schools have become all-through, generally results have markedly improved, as has accountability. It is a model which has the strong support of the Government’s Schools Commissioner, Dr Elizabeth Sidwell, and many leading academics. It is time for the council to follow our lead and think again.

Julia Wakelam,

Governor, Bury St Edmunds Academy.

 Like Graham White, I am ‘absolutely horrified’ by the revelation that Suffolk County Council’s policy of converting to two-tier schooling has a cost to the tax payer of £103 million by 2013.

The capital costs are far less than the cost to those pupils who have had their education disrupted by the process.

Surely the proposal of an all-through education from four to 19 years with a continuity and flexibility across the ages, keeping much of what is good about the three-tier system whilst eliminating many of the perceived problems, has got to be better for our young people – with the added bonus of costing a lot less.

Mike Wilcock,

Barrow.

 The plan to change to two-tier was conceived when there was plenty of money available to build new schools, money which is no longer there.

Does this mean that the money that is being spent, is to patch up the system to make do, rather than do the job properly?

The prolonged period of uncertainty has also been incredibly demotivating for teachers across the county, their job is difficult enough as it is.

I totally agree with Graham White that ‘there’s nothing wrong with the existing three-tier system. That money could be used in a much better way’.

J P Salmon,

Bury St Edmunds.