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Councillors: Are they listening?

Dear parents, pupils, ex-pupils, teachers, governors and everyone else who has shown us such fantastic support: Thank you.

Please keep writing to your local Councillor, to the Council leader Jeremy Pembroke, to education chief Patricia O'Brien, and to your MP. Please keep sending us your letters and the replies you get.

Most Suffolk Councillors have been woefully unable or unwilling to respond to specific questions from the people they were elected to represent (see our "response page").

Many of the responses from the Council you have sent us are form letters. Some Councillors have now taken to reproducing a "stock answer" drafted for them by Council employees, and are not even bothering to pen their own replies. You can read a typical stock reply here, together with our commentary on it.

If you receive a stock reply, or any reply which doesn't answer your questions, don't just accept it. Write back and ask your questions again. We are worried that some Councillors have not themselves properly read their education department's report or have not understood it.

The Council keeps quoting statistics that have been shown to be wrong, in particular about the difference between GCSE results in the two systems.

2006 GCSE results by Suffolk area

Town or nearest town Rank System total pupils in GCSE year Pupils with 5 or more A-C grades at GCSE
Debenham 1 2-tier 92 83.0%
Woodbridge 2 2-tier 421 73.2%
Bury St Edmunds 3 3-tier 1,341 69.5%
Ipswich 4 2-tier 2,257 60.0%
Bungay 5 3-tier 237 60.0%
Beccles 6 3-tier 353 59.0%
Eye 7 2-tier 199 59.0%
Sudbury 8 3-tier 506 57.2%
Leiston 9 3-tier 175 57.0%
Stowmarket 10 3-tier 445 55.5%
Felixstowe 11 2-tier 331 51.2%
Newmarket 12 3-tier 180 51.0%
Lowestoft 13 3-tier 798 48.3%
Haverhill 14 3-tier 320 47.6%

Note that, if you compare the two largest education areas in Suffolk, Ipswich and Bury-St-Edmunds, three-tier Bury outperforms two-tier Ipswich by a full 9.5 percentage points on the government's key GCSE measure. Bury comes third in the county, behind affluent (and far smaller) Debenham and Woodbridge, but has almost three times as many pupils.

We need answers to questions like these:

  • Why does the stock reply continue to promote the myth that there is a "clear and worrying difference" between academic achievement in two- and three-tier education? The Council's own report contains corrective feedback from a Professor at York University which shows that the difference is minimal. See our analysis here.
  • Why does the stock reply assert in blanket fashion that "those in the three-tier system lag behind throughout their school life, and come out with lower grades at GCSE"? The fact is that how well you do at GCSE depends on where you live (see our table above). If you live in well-off Debenham, Woodbridge or Bury St Edmunds, you are more likely to do well in the government's key GCSE educational measure: pupils gaining five or more grades between an A and a C. If you live in Felixstowe or Lowestoft, you are more likely to do badly. This has nothing to do with whether you are in two-tier or three-tier education.
  • Why is Suffolk trying to rush this change through when Ipswich has applied to become a "unitary authority" - ie an independent urban Council, like Manchester? If Ipswich were no longer part of Suffolk, then based on 2006 data, there would only be 1,043 GCSE pupils left in two-tier schools, and a full 4,355 in the three-tier system. If Suffolk is trying to save money, perhaps it would make more sense to switch the few remaining two-tier schools to the three-tier system.
  • And if Ipswich plans to breaks away, how can Suffolk County Council take any valid financial decision on the future of education in the county while the fate of the city is undecided?

See too this letter from parent Teresa Kibblewhite, and this one from parent John Hicks, for two great summaries of many of the arguments parents have been putting to Councillors.