Chiefs calm fears over shake-up

SUFFOLK'S education chiefs today said they want to calm the fears of parents and teachers worried about the biggest shake-up in the county's education service for more than 30 years.

SUFFOLK'S education chiefs today said they want to calm the fears of parents and teachers worried about the biggest shake-up in the county's education service for more than 30 years.

Already set in motion by Suffolk County Council, the year-long review of Suffolk's school organisation and provision is expected to assess the effectiveness of the county's middle school system, consider building new schools, and a new Ipswich sixth form centre.

Councillor Patricia O'Brien, who has responsibility for children, schools and young peoples' services, said: “We want to allay people's fears. Nothing has been decided and the review process is only just beginning. The review will be an opportunity for everyone to be asked and be involved. We want to do the best for our young people in Suffolk.”

Rosalind Turner, the council's director for children and young people, said the review was a wide ranging process that will involve massive public consultation.

She said: “Education has not been reviewed since the council was set up in 1974 so it is timely. We want the best for our children. This review will enable us to look at the whole system and how it can be improved.”

Ms Turner said the review will help provide an integrated approach between the council's education, social care and youth services.

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She said the review would help the council decide where to build new schools and how to meet the demands of a changing society.

She said: “We are looking at every aspect of the service from early years to 14-19 year old education provision. Pupil numbers are generally falling, but in some parts of Suffolk there are population increases.

“We need to need to respond to those new socio-economic developments and plan for the future.”

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SUFFOLK education service needs to change to meet the changing demands of the county's economy.

Cllr O'Brien said the review is also aimed at making sure the county meets the needs of employers and benefits the economic performance of Suffolk.

She said: “Not all children are academic. For example we want to provide a better range of quality vocational courses in the curriculum.

“Too many pupils leave school without many qualifications and end up in unskilled jobs. Vocational courses will help people find better jobs in the future.”

Ms Turner said: “Suffolk has lower than average post-16 progression in education. Suffolk has lower than average attainment in post-16 attainment. Suffolk has an overall lower than average wage economy. “We need to address these issues.”

“RADICAL changes” are expected to be implemented in the county's schools and education policy after the review has been completed.

Rosalind said she expected significant changes to 14 to 19-year-old education provision within the next few years.

She said: “The review will take a year to complete and find out what sort of system we want in Suffolk. We know we have to do better with 14 to 19 year-old-education. There are potential areas for radical change.”

The middle school system is expected to be reviewed during the process. At the moment 57 per cent of Suffolk pupils go through a three tier system of first-middle-high with the rest going to primary and then directly on to high school.

Ms Turner said the county has the third highest number of middle schools in the UK and the subject will be discussed with parents, teachers and two youngsters during the review.

She added: “Northumberland and Bedfordshire are reviewing their middle schools system and in the UK during the last 15 years most middle schools have been phased out.

“We want to decide whether we want to continue with two systems. There is an argument that the three tier system does interrupt education and the national curriculum key stage two falls over a period of time in which the pupils are at two schools.

“There is evidence to show the system does have an impact on attainment at key stage two level.”

A NEW Holywells High School, a new Ipswich sixth form and the merger of Orwell and Deben High schools - three ideas that may come under consideration during the next year.

Rosalind Turner said: “Around Ipswich there is a lot of discussion about the possible collaboration of the town's schools to merge their sixth forms. We shall be having this debate with residents.”

The future of Holywells, Deben and Orwell high schools are also expected to be discussed during the review, Ms Turner added.

A CROSS-party policy development panel has been set up to oversee the review and to make recommendations to the Council's cabinet. It will be made up of members of all the political parties, and other education providers, including church leaders.

Mrs O'Brien said: “The review has cross party support which means we are all batting in the same direction.

“It is very exciting that as part of a new administration we can come in and start to implement change to make improvements right across the key stages.

“I want to see higher standards and higher attainment. That is the main thrust of this review.”

There are 342 schools in Suffolk. 254 primary schools, 40 middle schools and 38 upper or high schools.

There are just under 100,000 pupils in Suffolk.