Suffolk: Deputy leader Lisa Chambers to take charge of education

Lisa Chambers

Lisa Chambers - Credit: Archant

SUFFOLK’S determination to put school improvement at the top of the county’s political agenda has been shown by new deputy leader Lisa Chambers becoming its education spokeswoman.

Mrs Chambers will take over as cabinet member for schools, young people, and lifelong learning in the new cabinet which is due to be endorsed by the annual county council meeting on May 23.

And she insisted that improving schools in the county – which has been slipping down the national league tables for several years – will remain the council’s top priority.

Although both she and her children were educated in the three-tier system in the Forest Heath area, she said it was vital to press ahead with the controversial Schools Organisation Review (SOR).

Mrs Chambers has two children. Her 16-year-old daughter is preparing to take GCSEs and her 13-year-old son has just started at high school having been caught in the transition from three to two-tier schools in the area.

She said: “I understand the concerns about the changes. My son was caught in the transition, but the support he had from the schools and teachers has been exceptional and helped to make the whole process much better.”

Mrs Chambers has been involved in the decision-making process leading to the school changes since it started.

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“I joined the PDP (Policy Development Panel) looking at schools’ organisation soon after I joined the council back in about 2007.

“I had been educated in three-tier schools and it had worked well for me – and my children were in the system. But the more we looked at the facts and the results, the more convinced I became that it was right to make the change.”

Although the SOR is probably the most controversial issue surrounding schools in Suffolk, the position of the county’s schools in the national league table has led to the establishment of the “Raising the Bar” programme aimed at improving school performance and the aspirations of students.

A report has been produced by Matthew Taylor of the Royal Society of Arts and that is due to be published within the next few weeks.

Mrs Chambers said: “I’ve been involved in all the discussions about Raising the Bar, and I’ve been talking to Graham (Newman, education spokesman in the last cabinet) to bring me right up to speed.

“Graham did a great job in difficult circumstances – I’m looking forward to the challenge over the next few years.”

However the role was likely to continue to evolve – the increasing number of academies and free schools which are outside direct local authority control is likely to be a significant factor over the next few years.

Mrs Chambers said: “We have to work with academies and free schools to try to ensure they continue to be fully engaged with the Raising the Bar programme – the days when all schools’ policy was fixed by the county council is over.”

Mrs Chambers’ responsibilities range beyond schools to young people’s social services and life-long learning – a particular interest of hers.

“I am passionate about the value of training whatever stage you are at – if there’s a training course for cabinet education members, I’ll be the first to sign up!” she said.

Mrs Chambers’ appointment means there is now a new team running children’s services at the county council.

Sue Cook joined the authority as director of children and young people’s services in February – and has been preparing for the publication of the Raising the Bar proposals in the summer.

Mr Newman remains in the cabinet and takes over the roads and transport job – a role he is very enthusiastic about.

He is a member of the East Suffolk Travellers’ Association and has had an interest in transport matters for many years.