Not in nearly a decade of looking after this paper’s letters pages have I seen such a volume of correspondence on a single subject.
The reorganisation of Bury St Edmunds’ schools has got the town hot under the collar. People who have never written to a newspaper before have put pen to paper to vent their feelings.
Initially, it was largely a mailbag hostile towards Suffolk County Council and its plan to do away with middle schools in a move from a three-tier to two-tier system. Opposition against the Schools Organisational Review (SOR) seemed almost universal.
But as the date for reorganisation has crept closer, and with Bury being the last corner of Suffolk to undergo the process, the nature of the debate and the volume of correspondence has changed.
It’s clear from the number and tone of letters that parents are worried about their children’s education as two ‘opposing’ camps look set to split the town down the middle, offering different routes for their youngsters – the all-through Bury St Edmunds Academy Trust and the Bury Schools Partnership, which will follow the two-tier system. And that’s leaving the Catholic schools out of the equation.
I’m not an educationist and I wouldn’t dare suggest that one system is (or could be) superior to the other, but I am pretty sure that, in the case of Bury, the fragmentation of state schooling has been at the very least, unhelpful.
How can anyone create a robust educational strategy for an area if some schools can simply ‘do their own thing’? There already seems to be some confusion about the number of places that will be available within the two systems in Bury.
I had real sympathy (unusually) for Suffolk County Council last week when Ofsted criticised the authority over a lack of improvement in its schools – it seems the council has less and less control over schools but still has to take responsibility for their performance.
Welcome though the debate on our letters page is – it’s a vital role of local newspapers – it’s more important that parents’ opinions are heard and taken into account by the decision-makers – no school, or system, will succeed without their full support.