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Former Suffolk teacher releases book about the history of Great Barton primary school

PUBLISHED: 00:06 12 February 2017 | UPDATED: 08:01 13 February 2017

Lads from Great Barton Boys' School in 1913

Lads from Great Barton Boys' School in 1913


If I had the money, I’d present every new MP with a copy of Sue Spiller’s book and urge them to let schools settle down. Thirty years should do it...

Great Barton school staff from the mid-1990s, with head teacher Sue Spiller in the middle of the front rowGreat Barton school staff from the mid-1990s, with head teacher Sue Spiller in the middle of the front row

The book shows our education system has always been piecemeal. Still is. If the youngsters have learned their lessons, it seems the adults could do better.

Bertuna’s Children tells the story of education in Great Barton, three miles from Bury St Edmunds. (Bertuna is its Saxon name.) “The first school building was built on the private estate of (Victorian) Sir Henry Edward Bunbury, a wealthy philanthropist who owned most of the land in Great Barton at the time,” explains Sue, head teacher from 1990 to 2004. Today, it’s Great Barton Church of England Primary Academy, having united with three other schools as a trust. Sue explores historical issues such as poverty, staffing, the curriculum, discipline and the impact of war.

In the final chapter she offers her reflections about education in general, pointing out that many aspects concerning us today also exercised our ancestors. Disparities in funding, say. In 1850, apparently, the average sum spent on books a year was more than £10 in Surrey and just over £3 in Suffolk.

According to Department for Education figures for 2013/2014, annual state funding per pupil was £7,800 in Southwark and £3,885 in Suffolk.

Sue Spiller, the book, and Julia Wakelam, mayor of St Edmundsbury, at Great Barton Church of England Primary AcademySue Spiller, the book, and Julia Wakelam, mayor of St Edmundsbury, at Great Barton Church of England Primary Academy

Then there’s apparent systemic inequality. In 2012, 88% of UK pupils were in comprehensive schools, 5% in grammars and 7% in independent (private) schools. Yet according to Government statistics, 71% of senior judges in 2014 had gone to independent schools, as had 55% of permanent secretaries in the civil service.

Sue also points to our mix of community schools, faith schools, multi-academies and free schools. “The defenders of a fragmented system argue that it offers a choice to parents. However, not all parents have a realistic choice.” In Suffolk in 2015, she says, “43 per cent (93 out of 214) of state-funded, non-academy primary schools were church schools, most of which were the only school in the village.”

Her conclusions? “Despite all the educational legislation, regulations and reports, and the countless hours of discussions and debates, it would appear there is no single solution to the issue of how to educate children in Britain; just a wide range of alternatives and adaptations in an ever-changing world.

“Until education policy is based on well-researched evidence, rather than political ideology, the education system will be subjected to new policies each time a new government is elected. Consequently, many of these recurring issues may never be resolved.”

Road safety clowns at Great Barton school in 1971Road safety clowns at Great Barton school in 1971

Bertuna’s Children: The History of Education in a Suffolk Village is published through Arena Books at £18.99

At the chalkface

Sue Spiller’s 34-year career saw her teach in a number of Suffolk schools, including Eye primary and Denes Grammar (later Denes High) in Lowestoft

A staff photograph from Great Barton school in 1973A staff photograph from Great Barton school in 1973

In the mid-1970s she moved to a village near Diss

Today, home for Sue and her husband is a 19th Century farmhouse in France

She has two children and three grandchildren

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