Education chief admits complacency

SUFFOLK's education chief has admitted “complacency” has crept into the county's education system after it emerged the number of students achieving the required GCSE grades had fallen by almost 10% over five years.

Jo Thewlis

SUFFOLK's education chief has admitted “complacency” has crept into the county's education system after it emerged the number of students achieving the required GCSE grades had fallen by almost 10% over five years.

Graham Newman, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for children, schools and young people, said the county may have “taken its eye off the ball” after figures showed fewer than half of Suffolk's 16-year-olds gained five A*-C grades.

In 2004, a record-breaking 57.3% of the county's GCSE students left school with at least five A* to C grades.


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Another standard was achieved the following year, when 58.3% of the county's 8,619 GCSE students achieved at least five of the top grades, which amounts to 5,024 pupils.

But, four years on, only 48.7% of the 8,429 GCSE hit that standard - a fall of 9.5%.

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This means 919 fewer students gained their target grades last year than in 2005.

And, last night, Mr Newman said the county council could shoulder some of the blame for the drop.

“We have had a deal of complacency. Possibly, our eye has gone slightly off the ball on education targets,” he said.

He blamed increasing bureaucracy for the drop in attainment, with teachers grappling with health and safety red tape rather than helping struggling students.

As the number of manual jobs waiting for school-leavers in Suffolk falls, Mr Newman said it was “absolutely crucial” youngsters had adequate qualifications for the county's economy to survive.

“It has come to a time now where we need to do something,” he said. “We can't send children out into the world who don't have a basic grasp of English and maths.

“We are a rural county yet we have got people in inner city areas doing better than us.”

As well as specialist subject advisors being drafted in to improve standards in English and maths, Mr Newman pledged an extra �300,000 would be ploughed into schools by 2011 to stem the decline in pass rates.

Holywells High School in Ipswich was one of the worst performing schools in Suffolk, with only 27% of students gaining five A* to C grades including English and maths in last summer's exams.

But headteacher Ian Bloom said it was the school's second best set of results.

“It is part of an upward trend,” he said. “We would always like better results but it is looking at individual students and where their potential lies.

“It is moving youngsters up from where they are when they come to us.”

Graham White, Suffolk secretary for the National Union of Teachers (NUJ), said the closure of schools for youngsters with emotional and behavioural difficulties in previous years had meant teachers are being forced to cope with disruptive students with a distinct shortage of support.

“It is massively demoralising,” he said. “Schools have to cope with pupils who are less keen on learning and they are not getting the support to help them with these students.”

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