Education motion speech – Cllr Sonia Barker


I am proposing this motion due to the complete lack of urgency with regard to the sub-standard level of education that many hundreds of Suffolk pupils are currently receiving particularly in Ipswich and Lowestoft.

I don’t like having to point out the truth, but there are so many problems in education in Suffolk that this administration does not know where to look.

There is an inability to attract the best and brightest teachers; some of the worst schools in the country; still near the bottom of the league tables; a growing gap in attainment for those from disadvantaged backgrounds; and no identifiable set of consistent actions to improve education.

The report from Northern Education identifies what the problem is. It states that “it seems as though the LA had “stood still” when all around was changing and had struggled to cope with cuts to funding and, in particular, the loss of experienced personnel that followed”.

It went onto say the “LA [is] slow to react to external forces and change rather than being on the front foot”.

And whilst the council looks the other way the number of schools that are performing worse than in 2010 rises. The number of maintained schools with worse 5 A*-C GCSEs including English and maths than in 2010 is 37. Only 11 have improved.

I represent a division in Lowestoft. A town with the dubious reputation of having three quarters of its High Schools in Special Measures – Lowestoft acquired the third high school in Special Measures at the end of November. A school that fifteen years ago won Curriculum awards for its results. Now not so much ‘Raising the Bar’ more ‘Crushing the Hope’.

I hope the words from the last Ofsted report are still ringing in your ears, “Suffolk pupils were having their life chances damaged”.

So what do we do about educational standards in Suffolk?

Firstly, we need an action plan for each of the schools that are ‘damaging the life chances of young people in Suffolk’.

We know that where School Improvement officers intervene they make a huge difference. The Northern Education report tells us so. And we support this.

Where there has been early intervention and the local authority acts swiftly those schools are successfully helped to turn around quickly. But there needs to be FAR more of this – instead of which you have steadily cut the available budget and staff.

We need to have these action plans published – to show what needs to be done and what needs to improve, it needs to identify what actions need to be taken on behaviour in classrooms, actions to be taken on attendance, actions needed to improve teaching and learning. Joined up actions across the whole school.

But more than that this, it needs to be public, to allow everyone, parents, teachers, heads, pupils, the community including councillors, anyone with an interest, to see what actions are being taken, what targets are being met and what improvements are being made.

We need transparency about what is happening, not plans made in secret with no communication.
This will drive the improvement we need.

This county council has tried to wash its hands of its responsibilities – saying it has no jurisdiction over academies and so all we can do is cut the Learning Improvement Service because we have fewer schools to support.

But we believe this is not the only way.

Other authorities have taken a proactive approach to their work with academies.

In Hampshire they have told academies they are going to work with the local authority and they are going to improve in the ways they say they are. They have said we will not let schools sink, that they will help them swim.

We want the council to take this line with academies, to be quick to react and on the front foot. Taking a lead.

This administration needs to ask all schools, not “what is your status?”, but “how can we help?”

Cllr Rudkin will talk more about the peer review process, but the point is we need a whole system review and we need it to be independent.

Cllr Chambers has said that the education in Suffolk is beginning to improve. We do not believe that. Certainly the results in our worst-performing schools are getting worse , not better.

Our children and young people cannot put their lives on hold until you have got things right – unless there is radical improvement starting right now, thousands of Suffolk youngsters will have their lives blighted. We believe that our motion offers a constructive way forward and I urge you to support it.

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