This morning, a number of you will have woken up to the front page of the East Anglian Daily Times with Councillor Gordon Jones, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Education, pledging to “fight for the county’s children”.
In my view, promising to “fight for the county’s children” should be the basic requirement for the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Education and, therefore, it is curious that this should make front page news but we’ll leave that aside for now.
Nevertheless, the timing of this pledge is important for two reasons.
Firstly, Ipswich, a town which has been hit hardest by school funding cuts in Suffolk, goes to the polls tomorrow for local elections. It is no coincidence that the Conservatives should seek a timely election boost, even though they’ve known about the latest funding formula for months now.
Secondly, by the end of this month the Tories at Suffolk County Council could have a new leader in Cllr Matthew Hicks who has promised to usher in a new era at the Council after challenging Cllr Colin Noble, a man whose man-management style could be described as ‘Marmite’ at best.
At this stage, Cllr Hicks seems to be the favourite so Cllr Jones, who has come under intense criticism for his home-to-school transport proposals (not least in his own party) and has previously been seen as a key ally to Cllr Noble, could be looking to rebrand himself.
However, regardless of timing, it is clear that this new announcement amounted to little in the way of substance.
There was no extra funding for Suffolk’s schools. There was no guarantee of future meetings with the Secretary of State for Education or even our local MPs. In fact, there was little aside from tepid criticism of the government which, given the week they’ve just had, will hardly be sending shockwaves through Whitehall.
In reality, this was a commitment to more of the same. More vague promises of action whilst Suffolk, its schools and its pupils continue to get left behind.
Education has reached a crisis point in Suffolk. Although ‘Raising the Bar’ was launched in 2012 its success has been limited with improvements in attainment largely underwhelming.
The Council will point to the fact that 87% of schools in Suffolk are now good or outstanding and, clearly, that is to be welcomed. But this must stop being used as a smokescreen to cover up the incredible number of challenges that still face us as a county, six years after ‘Raising the Bar’ was first launched.
This is what education under a Conservative-run council looks like when they are “fighting for the county’s children”:
- Suffolk schools face £7.8million in real-term cuts with the schools in the poorest communities being hit with the biggest reductions of funding;
- Just 0.07% of the Council’s budget is afforded to ‘Raising the Bar’, a strategy that fits onto one side of A4;
- Proposed changes to home-to-school transport meaning thousands of families will have to make the choice between changing their working hours to drive to school; paying £1,000 per child, per year to use the school bus; or, force their child to move school in the middle of their education;
- A crisis of funding in early years’
- Closures of Mygo centres in Ipswich and Lowestoft, losing a service which has helped thousands of young people move into jobs;
- Closures of children’s centres across Suffolk, with nine closing in 2015;
- A teacher retention and recruitment crisis with a fall in training course applications and an increasing number of young teachers quitting;
- Children as young as four years old waiting for a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) place at a time when Suffolk has the fourth highest number of primary school pupils attending a PRU in the country;
- No commitment to a review of asbestos in schools.
I make no apologies for demanding the very best for our children and our schools in Suffolk. I am not content to ignore the reality of our situation or complacent to think our ambition of delivering a high class education for all of our children is anywhere near complete.
The vague promises and the grandstanding on education coming from the Tories at Suffolk County Council has to stop. It’s time they start delivering.
This article was published on Wednesday 2nd May 2018.