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This page contains a blog of comments posted to this site by visitors. Please keep them coming.


Short-sightedness and Local elections...

From Claire Haselwood, April 22

I am writing to you as I am very much against the ending of middle schools in Suffolk. Having been brought up in Bury St Edmunds my husband and I attended middle schools and we have both left having had a very good education & obtaining good exam results upon leaving King Edward VI Upper School.

After a period of living in different areas of the country due to our jobs we returned to Bury to start a family as we believe it the best start we could give a child. Part of the reason, along with good employment, low crime rate and family ties for returning was the good schools in the town. Now this is about to change. Our daughter will now be 4 in September and we are starting to look into which school she should attend. The natural choice would be Harwick Primary and Middle as we live on the Nowton Estate - but will these schools continue in the future.

I believe that the councillors in charge of this change have been very short sighted about how this effects parents in Suffolk - not even considering those with children who are due to start school in the near future. I will certainly not be voting conservative at the forthcoming local elections.


Well-balanced pupils

from Natalie Sinnadurai

I have been reading about the debate very closely. I have two children, one of whom will be starting at Westley Middle School in September. I was very impressed by the school, especially by the children. At the recent Open Day for prospective parents, the children were confident, open and welcoming and obviously very proud of their school. My son loved it so much that he wanted to start the next day! As Westley is our catchment school and we were all so impressed by it, we didn't bother looking elsewhere so can't compare it.

I believe that the reasons why the children seemed such startlingly well balanced human beings is that the teaching and management staff are excellent and the school is of a size that can be managed and isn't unwieldy; they are able to nurture each child as an individual.

I really, really hope that Suffolk County Council isn't proposing the change because of financial savings. If we have no choice and the decision has already been made, then I hope that the new schools which are created aren't huge, housing thousands of children. There is no reason why these new schools can't be small, manageable institutions as well. Maybe this would be the solution to switching to the two-tier system.

I know that this is heretical, but I really have no interest in what my children's positions are in any league tables. I am much more concerned that they leave school confident and rounded human beings, able to work co-operatively with other people, are imaginative, innovative and not afraid of a challenge. These characteristics aren't necessarily encouraged by the results-driven curriculum but are inherent in the ethos at Westley.


Canada builds Middle Schools

From Joanna Atherton, Feb 15

It`s great to read so many thoughtful and heart felt comments on the blog.

I would just like to add my penny`s worth.

We are in British Columbia for a year, and here they are BUILDING Middle schools because they have found that the 2 tier system does not meet the children`s needs; take note Suffolk County Council. The feeling that change is going to come whatever anybody may say against it is deeply disheartening and councillors should be very worried indeed about the signals they are sending out to the `potential` electorate. I say potential, as so few people vote and even fewer will when they see that councillors have not the slightest inclination to listen and thoughtfully and intelligently debate issues that arise.

Please, councillors, look up from the minutia of fiddly, misleading and unenlightened statistics, and use your thinking skills (incidentally being taught in Suffok schools to great effect) to look at far, far more telling effects on a child`s education than on whether they are in a 2 tiered or 3 tiered system.

A comment made by Patricia Brian and reported in the EADT (Jan.17th 2007) that teachers are`seriously questioning the sustainabliity of education in Suffolk which is not the national norm` seems to indicate that `normal` just has to be better when it comes to staff retention than the less usual. Does a system being `normal` or not, have anything to do with how happy the staff are in the school? The real key to good schools is...a happy, motivated workforce, who know that they are supported in their efforts to give the children a positive experience of learning. If the staff are buzzing, so will the children be. Where should Councillors be turning their attention if they want to get more people into teaching, and retain the many excellent staff they already have?

Here are some ideas.

Councillors proving they are listening would also have an amazing impact on how they are viewed by voters...who might actually start turning out to vote if they see that the people they vote for will actually listen and openly debate in order to find the best solutions to problems.

So keep up the good work PAC and maybe, just maybe something good will come out of all this...a leaving of the system as it is, but with a whole new impetus to the encouragment and support of staff and thus even more pupils leaving school and going into life excited by learning and by what life has to offer.

And all that money they obviously want to spend on something? How about spending it on improving the sustainability of every single school in Suffolk, after all the health of our children`s future world depends on wise leadership and spending now.


Support from KidsGetHelp.Org

We would just like to say we think it's great you are opposing the council, we are right behind you and have placed a link to your site on our home page (3000 user a day average). I really hope that all of us parents united together can stop the council doing as they please.

Good Luck,
Kids Get Help Team

http://www.kidsgethelp.org.uk/


 

"Lazy" parents or flawed consultation?

From J Fisk, Feb 10

Have you seen page 31 of today's (sat 10th Feb) EDP?

Take a look - it's a shocker.

Where "parents are blamed for a lack of response" Mrs O'Brien stated: " Its up to people to read the documents and respond to them. People are notoriously lazy."

I don't think so. Look at the response since people have finally found out about the changes. I think the "flawed" consultation is more to blame!


Teacher in favour of change

from Phil Williams, Feb 10

As a secondary school teacher with experience in both 11-19 and 13-19 schools, as a parent of two boys aged 4 and 7, and as a governor of a First School I sincerely hope that Suffok County Council vote to change on 22 March.

Suffolk cannot go it alone. 97% of the UK is organised along the two-tier system. If the whole of Suffolk was already three-tier then I think there would be an argument to maintain the system. As it is Suffolk is left with the legacy from council re-organisation of 1974 - it needs to be bold; it needs to change NOW.

I understand the fears of parents – I know my boys will be affected by this change. I know it will mean great change for our secondary schools – but education is about change. I know that there will be great speculation and scaremongering about the fate of Middle and First schools – but the decision to change WILL benefit ALL in the future.


 

Ixworth school meeting

From Wendy Canham

Thanks for such a good presentation. disappointed in the response of our elected members tho.

Have sent my support for the status quo to cllr. Warby and will get signatures to the petition and send it on.


 

Against the scrapping of Middle Schools

From Sandy Leonard

I am a governor of a small village school of only 30 pupils. You may think we would welcome the oportunity to expand but the reality is that we would have great difficulty given the size of the school and grounds. I passionately believe this is about cost rather than the quality of education and I mean the whole picture not just those elements children are tested on. I believe that the three tier is the better system overall. I came from a two tier system and thought the three tier was odd but with both my children having gone through the system I can honestly say the dips that occur in maost two tier systems in year 9 did not occur in the three tier system beacause they were given another fresh start to motivate them. The Middle schools offer so much more than a primary can offer. I therefore support you. I am unable to offer much in the way of time. We are holding a full governors meeting to discuss the issue on the 6th Feb so will be in touch again to see if there is anything we can do. The timing of the report and the time for consultation has been disgusting.
Regards
Sandy


 

Letter to local press

From Jonathan Blankley

Having just attended the meeting at Beccles Middle School I would like to congratulate councillors Mark Bee and Patricia O'Brien on failing to answer in full any of the questions asked at the meeting. Despite their assurances that they had come to listen it was apparent that neither of them had any intention of doing so. I hope that Councillor Bee at least has the moral courage to listen to his electorate and vote against the proposed change to a two tier system, and not as I suspect he will, either vote in favour of the proposal or take the true politicians route and abstain.

Jonathan Blankley


 

Misguided and damaging Council goals

From Dave Crocker

I Herby pledge our support for the PAC campaign.

My family and I live in Worlingham Suffolk and would gladly give our time and effort to help with the campaign to save our middle schools. We as a family feel very strongly that retaining the current 3 tier system would be beneficial for not only our two young sons but also the whole local community and all future pupils of our local middle school.
We know that we would undoubtedly all suffer if our non representative county councillors achieve their misguided and damaging goal with who knows what other hidden agendas such as the sale of school land playing field etc. Our spare time is available.

Dave Crocker


 

Beccles vote

From Lindsay Blankley

Just attended the public meeting at Beccles Middle. It was reasonably well attended but not nearly as well as it should have been. There was a vote at the end where everyone present voted to retain the three tier system. Interestingly, the councillors, Mark Bee and Patricia O'Brien, failed to answer any of the questions satisfactorily. The Northern area Manager (I think that is her title) acknowledged that in our pyramid education is very good - which begs the question why change. I pushed our councillors to state how they would vote on this issue. John Taylor who was present, but not invited!!!, said he would vote to retain the three tier system. Mark Bee said he would vote as he feels best!

My husband has written to the local paper raising this issue.

Lindsay


 

Financial motives

From Chris Canham
It's known the goverment intend to spend millions or even billions upgradeing and refurbishing all of the secondary schools across the country. Once they have finished this programme their intention is to move onto the primary schools and upgrade/refurbish all of these. Just think of the extra cost government will have to find funding for to carry out this work in areas which have a three tier educational system.

No wonder educational areas such as ours want (have been instructed by government?) to rid themselves of middle schools and therby raise considerable funds from the sale of the surplus buildings/land.

Keep up the good work.

Regards,
Chris.


 

Better ways to spend money

From Julia Gooch

I was absolutely horrified to see that the Council plans to axe all middle schools in Suffolk. My daughter, now 15, attended at St James Middle School in Bury St Edmunds. I have one other child, now 8, that is due to go to middle school (I hope!) in September 2008. He is currently at Ickworth Park Primary School. St James is an extremely well run school - tough on discipline and excellent on praise. If my son does not get to go to St James, I will be extremely angry. Between the ages of nine and thirteen children change an awful lot from being the young children to maturing into responsible well rounded teenagers. Woodworking shops, kitchens, sewing rooms, full size rugby/football pitches, full size athletics tracks, separate teachers for each subject. This they would not get in a two tier system. I recently looked at the website for Kennett School that is just across the border into Cambridgeshire. This is under the two tier system and therefore the children are th ere until the age of eleven. Between the ages of nine and eleven, they do not have any of the correct classrooms for the particular subjects and certainly do not have the space for a full size rugby/football pitch/athletics track. They are taught every lesson by the one same teacher. The middle schools give the children between nine and eleven the specialist subject education two years earlier than the two tier system. This is very much to their benefit. If anything, two tier should change to three tier so that they have the extra two years of specialist education that my daughter has had.

You have to ask yourself though why spend £23 million on closing middle schools? There are much better ways to spend such a sum of money across Suffolk for the children. After all, how does closing the middle schools actually benefit the children? It does not. If they have that sum of money to spend, why has my son’s primary school had to axe swimming lessons for the older children? Why has my daugther not got a specialist humanities teacher when she is trying to study for one of her GCSEs in that subject? Surely correcting these sort of things in schools would be a better way to spend £23 million? After all, these are the things that matter to the children.

One final thought. Think ahead. If the middle schools are axed, why do the Council want to close the middle schools? I am only speculating, but could it be that the land upon which they are all based is worth a lot of money to them? Think about it, St James Middle School overlooking the Abbey Gardens, would convert nicely into posh flats. The playing field could be used for more housing. Westley Middle School - located on an estate - more room for housing! Hardwick Middle School - again on an estate - yet more housing! I could go on. You see they are all prime sites. Think of the money that the Council could make by selling these sites all off for housing. Could this be the main objective? I sincerely hope not, because at the end of the day, you cannot put a price on children’s education because from Needham Market across to Newmarket, it is priceless!


 

Optimum school size?

From Nigel Godfrey

Am I the only one who remains unconvinced by the SOR report's conclusion that 1200 pupils represent the optimum number for a
sustainable secondary school?

I question for example: How does a large school, on one site under one management reconcile with the government's long term vision of "flexible learning"

I find it hard not to come to the more cynical conclusion that the one size fits all proposal is driven primarily by the expectation of
economies of scale.

I wouldn't mind so much if these economies were reliable.

If for example
a) The report had the confidence to spell out when we could expect the £4.4 million projected savings to kick in.
b) Initial savings weren't earmarked to pay off interest (from all the additional borrowing the report identifies would follow any decision to abolish the 4O middle schools and expand primary and secondary provision)
c) That the financial projections actually integrated the "Olympic effect on construction costs (rather than acknowledge then ignore this in inevitable add on)and...
d) The tendency for construction costs to inflate - Olympics or not.


 

Judicial Review?

From Sue Arnold

Hi, I am a parent of two children who have enjoyed middle school (Blackbourne), have another child looking forward to the experience and am also a govenor at Stanton Primary.

I am bitterly opposed to the proposed change to a two tier system for the same reasons as other people who have made their views known, so I won't list them all again here.

On discussing the issues with friends, I would like to make a couple of points.

1) This decision seems to be driven by the desire to draw on central government funds through the "Building for the Future" scheme, which seems reasonable. In the National Middle Schools Forum's research materials section is the 'Proposal to reorganize Suffolk Middle Schools - a national perspective' document which points out that there is no bias against bids coming from areas where a three tier system exists. In other words, changing to two tier DOES NOT NEED TO HAPPEN IN ORDER TO RECEIVE FUNDING. I believe the PDP has simply chosen to favour changing the system because it is an obvious and dramatic change. There must be those on the council who would be open to this argument and who can see that we should all be celebrating the obvious benefits and success of our schools as they are at the moment, and seek funding to improve and build on what we have.

2) If the decision to change is passed on 22 March, it has been suggested to me that a judicial review may be a possibility. I know practically nothing about this, but apparently it would need legal advice from people experienced in dealing with local authorities, and an individual with a low income to bring the case (ie eligible for legal aid and not personally liable for large costs) I don't know how realistic this is, but thought it worth passing on. Also, obviously, we need to examine exactly what actions have been taken by those areas which have managed to halt the change and learn from them.

Thank you for what you are doing, it is appreciated by many.

Regards,

Sue Arnold


 

Liberal Democrats Seek Your Views

From John Marsden, Waveney

The Liberal Democrat Group on Suffolk County Council have set up an e-mail address for people to express their views on the issue, prior to the Full Council meeting. They would welcome people\'s views sent to yourviewsonschools@googlemail.com.

The campaign has the full support of Liberal democrats in Waveney, but views at county level are undecided, so plenty of considered comments would be appreciated.


Concern for Confidence

From Gillian Austin

I have e mailed Terry Clements and got a fairly standard reply, which I am sure others have received. I am hoping to hear from David Ruffley and am in the process of writing to the minister for education in the house of commons and the house of lords.

My main concern is the social side of things, as my daughter is not a confident little girl and I feel that the middle school system will help her to develop some confidence and just open up opportunities to her socially. If she goes to a "comprehensive" school at the age of 11 from Barrow primary, she will be floored completely. I remember entering one of those schools, with 1000+ pupils and how scary it was and society is very different now. One of the other mums at school said how she was having to take medication for the entire summer holiday prior to starting comprehensive school over near Felixstowe, because she was so worried about it.

I still think we need to inform more parents in the primary schools. I think John Gibson is going to ask Steve to do his talk to the Barrow parents, but I know that Risby parents have not really been kept informed, to the degree they need to be. I can not imagine that there are any parents of little children that would be in favour of this change going ahead, particularly at this time.

As I said, just let us know if we can do anything. It's a shame you couldn't get it talked about in the Big Brother house - that seems to evoke a response!!!!


 

 

Message of Support

From Jacky Siddle, Jan 17

Hello
I am just one of the many parents who campained to keep the three tier system in Bedfordshire, I just wanted to send you my support and to say, just don't give up fighting - I did not really believe that we would win, but we did and hopefully you will too.

Jacky Siddle (Mrs)


 

Flaws in the PDP Report

From Mick Wilson, Jan 17

At the demo on Tuesday it was obvious that Suffolk Committee members are pinning all their arguments on the Policy Development Panel’s Report. As Neil Fleming has shown, this report is statistically flawed and its findings are irrelevant to the arguments in hand. I simply want to urge everybody to read Neil’s paper (obtainable from this site)and to begin to amass arguments against the Panel’s Report.

The councillors do not seem to comprehend the difference between education and learning on the one hand and the obtaining of exam passes on the other. If a proper comparison were to be made between pupils from the three tier system and the two tier we would have to consider

(a) ability to solve problems (not measured well by GCSE’s,
(b) the ability to work within a group,
(c) social skills
(d) psychological well-being
(e) the ability to perform with confidence in front of an audience, and
(f) the ability to voice one’s own opinions.


Another thing wrong with the Panel’s Report is, as far as I can ascertain, there are no measures to levels of significance. I may be wrong in this but if this is the case then it makes a nonsense of any ‘findings’. If figures do not reach levels of significance then everything can be put down to chance. Also, if GCSEs are the measure, then the two tier system must be placed in a most favourable position as the ethos and academic endeavors in secondary schools tends to be concerned with subject based teaching ‘at the front of the class’ with pupil passively exercising their wrists as they make notes aimed at passing exams and ticking boxes. They have a two-year start in this. The fact that there is hardly any difference between the two groups at the GCSE stage - EVEN GIVEN THESE ADVANTAGES, shows how much better the three tier system is! Not only can our three tier pupils match the two tier on their own ground but they seem to be far happier, less bullied, better adjusted, and well supported by their magnificent middle school parents! Come on you politicians, admit it, you are on shaky ground.

Listen to the teachers, governors, parents and CHILDREN.

Mick Wilson


The "listening" Council?

from Allison Hembery, Jan 17

I was lucky enough to have been able to make the protest yesterday and also went into the council chamber. It became evident to me very early on in the meeting that all the cabinet members had made their minds up on the next step to move forward even before the meeting commenced. This worries me a great deal as you all know that council leader Jeremy Pembroke came outside to address us & assured us our views will be listened too.Well I'm not at all up on how things work in these council meetings but I got the impression the councillors who did show some concerns for this proposed change were not entirely satisfied their views were taken into account.That's just my opinion & i say again i'm no expert on this. However I hope for our children's sake that they listen to us better than that.


 

Councillor O'Brien's command of the figures
From Tina Jessup, Jan 16

I missed the Morning Show with Mark Murphy on BBC Radio Suffolk today, but have just listened via their web site.

When you listen to the programme, it is very distressing at how few actual facts and figures Patricia O'Brien could quote. So many times, she said the details would be unavailable until AFTER the final decision is made in March.

Surely this is the wrong way round? ALL the facts and figures should be there on the table, in front of the Council, BEFORE making such a huge decision on the education of so many children?

She states that "the disruption will be carefully managed over a number of years" ..... they will "talk to schools after the final decision has been made on how the change should be managed".

The lady from Stowmarket, I believe, raised a vital question which Patricia O'Brien just could not answer. As a parent governor, she was concerned what impact this would have in Stowmarket, where the first phase would commence in 2009 but funding for buildings would not be available until 2015.

I would suggest everybody listens to the programme again!


 

Former pupil strongly supports the NO campaign

From Richard Mabb, Jan 16

I'm neither a parent or teacher but feel extremely strongly about this issue. I have a vested interest in this subject because I used to go to Ixworth Middle School. My education at Ixworth was a great time and I can remember growing in confidence immensley during the four years I spent there. Going on to Thurston Upper seemed daunting enough when it finally happened but would have been even more problematic had I been any younger than I was. I'm sure problems like bullying would be worse under a two tier system. It absolutely disgusts me that a councillor in this country can steal this golden opportunity away from today's kids when there is so much evidence of the good this system does both statistically, and more importantly from parents with kids and the kids themselves. As one of those former students I want to stand up and be counted in saying NO to this proposal. Good luck with the fight, I hope for our kids' sakes that you are successful.


Save Our Schools

From Sue Fryer, Jan 16

Keep up the good work. My 4 children all had the excellent education and time to mature at middle school. This is a very important time for our children and they need to be able to grow up without the influences that there are at high schools. I would have been with you on the protest today but unfortunately am severly disabled. I am also Chair of Governors at a Middle School and feel that they offer a unique environment for children aged 9-13.

I have sent details to all of our Parents so that the message gets out to every parent in the school. I have asked them to write/email their councillors.

Thank you for caring about our middle schools.


Keep up the good work

From Paul Morton, Jan 16

Keep up the good work.
The web site is extremely impressive.


Suffolk's national school standing

From Tracey Clewer, Jan 16

I too have been looking at the data and there is a very interesting point I have noticed that is mentioned and will not be addressed by the proposed changes- Suffolk is in the lower divisions nationally- not only the three tier.. and in all this restructuring I still have not read anything that will deliver higher results for all the children in Suffolk- The diversion of attention to this restructuring over the next decade may actually continue to disadvantage all children in Suffolk..

It may well be that Suffolk CC expectations fall short - as a parent with a very bright child and one who has found school challenging- I know that with very small low cost changes it has been possible to deliver a far higher set of results for my children without making any structural changes..


Letter I have sent to Bury Free Press

From Bettina Godfrey, Jan 16

Abolition of Middle schools – ‘it’s not a done deal’

To the parents of school age or pre-school age children in Bury St Edmunds, please do not think that the council's decision to put forward the proposal for a change from 3 tier to 2 tier system 'is a done deal'. While things seem to be rushing through with indecent haste, it is heartening to know (without too much research) that at least 3 regions have, by the power of parent action stopped the change in its tracks. Bedford, Northumberland and the Isle of White successfully got 'behind the spin' asked questions about building schools for the future, the impact on communities, on standards and most of all on children. Questions that councillors and the executive should have asked, questions that should have been answered by the Officers of the County.

We can do the same. I started off by just signing a petition and was happy to leave it at that, but now I realise we have a short window of opportunity -until 22nd March - to ask these questions and I believe we can make a difference.

There is talk of 'it's all about money' 'they'll do it anyway', that's as maybe, but if we get involved maybe we can 'head them off at the pass' and steer this money into improving standards within our existing system.

I want my children to go to a school I know is good, and not spend years in temporary classrooms whilst this council sorts out its buildings. Please do what you can to support this cause, it's really not too late, you can sign a petition, write to the Bury Free Press or your Councillor. Ask your councillor how they're going to vote as it may affect the way you want to vote in May!

Please visit www.parentsagainstchange.org to find out more.


Value of friendship

From Eric Goble, Jan 16

My wife and I lived in Somerset for some years and in the time we were there our two children were in the three tier system. They both did very well. The biggest plus factor was undoubtedly the fact that friendships made in early life were maintained throughout their schooling and, indeed, through the years since.


Ill-informed press coverage

From Peter Parke, Jan 16

I must first declare an interest, as my wife is a teacher at Beccles Middle School, and my son went through the middle school system at Halesworth. I haven't seen anything in any of the national media, and I think that it would be useful if the issue were aired more widely. Secondly, the press coverage from the Archant Press (mainly Lowestoft Journal, EADT, Beccles and Bungay Journal) seems to be ill-informed and in many ways negative ("it's a done job"). It might be helpful if these papers were given a suitably prepared statement rather than letting them draw their own erroneous conclusions.


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