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PAC launches Comprehensive
response to Suffolk proposals
A lot has happened since Suffolk parents woke up to the County Council's proposed abolition of three-tier schooling in Suffolk.
It's time to re-state the reasons why so many want the Council to vote "no" to the proposal on March 22.

Umbrella group Parents Against Change has compiled and sent to all Councillors and school heads a comprehensive report which:

  • explains where the research commissioned by our Councillors went wrong,
  • explains the benefits of three-tier education
  • offers an alternative way forward, and
  • asks them to re-think now, before they throw money away on a plan that won't improve schools' results.

A draft of this report has also been given to Suffolk MPs Richard Spring, David Ruffley, Michael Lord and Tim Yeo.

The report is a synthesis of research and analysis conducted by educational academics, statisticians, school teachers and parents of children in the Suffolk educational system. PAC gratefully acknowledges a vast number of contributions. The report is a living document: if you have suggestions for improving it, please let us know through the feedback page.

The report’s purpose is:

  • To show that the findings in Suffolk’s December 2006 “School Organisation Review – Report of the Policy Development Panel” are misguided, flawed, and unfortunately without merit.
  • To show that Councillors’ laudable efforts to find a way to improve Suffolk education have been led down a blind alley by a misinterpretation of the availabe data.
  • To suggest an alternative strategy, based on the Dorchester Area Schools Partnership model.

The report argues that the proposal now in front of SCC, to close the County’s forty Middle Schools and create a unified two-tier educational system, will not result in any improvement in pupils’ academic achievements. Instead, it will waste public money and disrupt the county’s school system for a decade.

It shows that:

  • By doggedly averaging “all Suffolk” school results, the report’s authors have missed an obvious and persistent correlation between wealth, poverty and school performance.
  • There is no “systematic” problem with three-tier schooling. There are good and bad schools in both systems, and there is no pattern to indicate school system is a factor.
  • The report has made selective use of statistics to try to demonstrate that three-tier schooling is inferior to two-tier schooling.
  • The report’s “key findings” have missed important conclusions reached by its own research team and feedback academics.
  • Key statistics demonstrate that three-tier education is in many cases better than two-tier.
  • SCC has not adequately researched the financials for its plan.
  • SCC’s consultation exercise did not reach the right target audience, and the absence of key stakeholder support may endanger the county’s Building Schools for the Future application.
  • SCC has not properly considered alternative solutions to the county’s underperformance in national educational league tables.



Key points in the PAC report

1. SCC's research has reached a mistaken conclusion - that schools' underperformance is somehow caused by "school system": 3-tier or 2-tier.

It is not caused by school system. There are good and bad 3-tier schools, and there are good and bad 2-tier schools.

  • The very best and the very worst two schools in the County at GCSE are both 2-tier schools.
  • 3-tier Bury St Edmunds outperforms 2-tier Ipswich by 9.5 percentage points at GCSE.

2. Suffolk's school results closely match patterns of wealth and poverty across the county. The chart below uses "Acorn" data to compare "Level 4" keystage two achievers with socio-economic classifications. It shows very clearly how the proportion of well-off families in an area affects test results. The vertical bars show the mix of wealth and poverty. The lines show test reults for science, maths and English.

Suffolk's report ignores this pattern, which means its conclusions are basically just plain wrong. (see too this EDP news story from Feb 26, and this government report)

Our Councillors were not told this and they risk taking a decision on faulty information.

3. The figures Councillors are working with are far too low. The report estimates £58-70 million for school building costs. Yet, for example, Worcestershire County Council, which has just completed a two-tier switch with a similar number of Middle Schools (45 versus 40), is spending £160 million on buildings.

It is very improbable that the Council will save any money at all from the scheme. The £4.4 million a year the report hopes will be saved equates to 12p per child per day - hardly a serious investment.

4. The Suffolk report suggests Middle Schools are not sustainable, because so much of the rest of England is two-tier. It predicts problems recruiting staff.

Yet there are eleven universities or colleges offering combined KS2/KS3 courses to trainee teachers. Headteachers and teachers in the Middle School system say they have no difficulty filling vacant positions, because the Middle School environment is so attractive.

5. Suffolk's plan will disrupt education for 10 years in the county.

The extended timeline means that many middle schools will have to exist for years knowing they will close. Staff morale will be low, good staff will leave, and there will be no investment in facilities or buildings.

6. Three-tier schooling, done right, offers huge educational and pupil welfare advantages. Why else would the private sector use Middle Schools so widely?
7. There is a better way forward. Suffolk has not studied the model provided by the Dorchester Area Schools Partnership, an educational alliance of primary, middle and upper schools which has delivered exceptional results at low cost since its formation in 1992. See the DASP website here.

8. PLEASE THINK AGAIN BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE. Councillors have an opportunity on March 22 to show what they are made of.

PAC recommends that they take on board the many issues highlighted in the PAC Report and vote to defer a decision until after further consultation and research.,