Cllr Lisa Chambers, the Conservative County Councillor responsible for education, has seen fit to announce the achievement that Suffolk schools have made in GCSE attainment in 2014, believing that moving from 14th from the bottom to 26th from the bottom of 150 Local Authorities is a great success story for Suffolk. It is true that some schools in Suffolk have improved greatly over the past few years, and it would be remarkable if some schools didn’t in a county the size of Suffolk, however this is little consolation for those children who attend the many schools in Suffolk which aren’t meeting the national targets and especially those that have actually seen a decrease in achievement over the last few years.
Suffolk New Academy, the high school for my division of Chantry, is one such school and has seen a massive decline from 40% to 24% achievement of 5 A*-C grades at GCSE level. Bad news for the children who live there and for their parents who want them to achieve and do well at school. The results for the schools in the surrounding areas have also fallen, with one exception, giving parents little choice about where their children go. Do these parents and children care that Suffolk has narrowed the gap between County and National results to just 1.7%? I don’t think so. As often seems to be the case, children living in more deprived areas such as Chantry and Gainsborough are losing out with their education whereas those in more affluent areas of Suffolk are seeing their schools improve. The County Council is completely failing the children and young people who need their help the most.
Studies show that children who receive free school meals are less likely to achieve than their peers, and for this reason schools receive extra funding to help these children to do better. However, if a child in Suffolk receives free school meals they have a less than 30% chance of getting 5 A*-C grades, this is the 6th worst in the UK. Suffolk’s help for children who receive free school meals, or with Special Educational needs, falls well short of what the children could expect in a more effective County. Suffolk New Academy and Ipswich Academy have a high number of children who receive free school meals but this doesn’t excuse their appalling GCSE results.
There is no good reason why the children attending Suffolk New Academy and Ipswich Academy shouldn’t do just as well as children in affluent areas, and it is true that both of these academies have had some excellent success stories with individual students. However, this needs to become the norm, not the exception. If we want to achieve that, the County Council has to make the resources available to bring education in these academies back up to the standard our children deserve. The County Council Labour Group will be calling for the Suffolk County Council budget for 2015/16 to be amended to include £0.5 million to be spent on each of these academies to help them become achieving schools rather than failing schools. The education of the children in Suffolk is our number one priority, nothing can be more important than providing the best possible education for our children, equipping them for a productive and positive future.