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Saturday, November 5, 2011

School Organisation Review

Earlier this week I went to the School Organisation Review at my local primary school. For those unaware, this is a move to change from a three tier school hierarchy (primary, middle, upper) to a two tier system (primary, secondary) that currently exists across the majority of the country. The first part of the evening was a presentation by the Local Education Authority followed by a timed Q&A session where any person allowed to speak was restricted to only one question.

After the consultations in previous years on the same subject (which never went ahead as the money ran out), I was really pleased to see the session wasn’t fronted by politics. There was no sign of the Suffolk CC chairman, and teachers from the proposed two tier schools were present.

I thought the council presentation started off very professionally and was much better than the historic events. My initial elation was dampened however, when they went into figures showing two tier vs. three tier performance. For me it’s a red flag as any figures can be so easily manipulated one way or another. Sure enough the graph didn’t include all the counties in the UK using the two tier school system, but just included selected counties. Plus the three tier schools were taken as a whole rather than looking at the specific middle school that they said wasn’t performing well enough. Now, I’m not saying metrics wise one system is better than the other, but either way they didn’t do themselves justice by making the figures appear biased.

The head and deputy teachers from the primary and upper schools presented next. You could instantly see their desire, commitment and passion to push this through, and with the same enthusiasm applied to teaching it can only be a good thing. If I had to criticise the overall presentation (council plus schools), it was too positive. In my experience nothing is perfect, particularly when you have to shoehorn in a solution rather than building purpose built schools. Not one presenter talked of anything detrimental. To me any change should be a balance of positives vs. negatives and that’s what you base your decision upon. There weren’t any negative points presented, again they were not doing themselves any favours as the audience then feels they are not being given the whole picture, or feel it’s just being railroaded through and the consultation is meaningless. Presenting some of the benefits of the three tier system over two tier system would have provided a more balanced view.

Question time followed the presentation. If I got chosen to ask a question, I would only get the chance to ask one, so I decided to hold off until near the end. I was hoping that someone else might answer some of my questions, and I could then focus on one of mine that was unanswered. For me these were the areas that still remain an issue:
  •  The LEA’s opinion is that changing schools causes a drop in performance. I’ve seen exactly the opposite in my oldest child, renewed vigour, excitement and commitment to work each time she changes school. She even said this to me, I don't need statistics to tell me this. I’m deeply concerned that children who thrive on change will be left by the wayside to accommodate those better suited to two tier schooling and to hit government targets.
  • The size of the primary school hall to accommodate up to another 90 pupils. The proposed phased lunchtime would resolve accommodating lunch, but assemblies would be cramped. I was lucky enough to attend an assembly this week and saw children were spreading their legs out to reserve a little room prior to sitting down, so even with current numbers it must be an issue.
  • Traffic and parking is beyond dangerous at our local primary. It’s not an accident "waiting" to happen, as I’ve already seen a parent crossing the road with their child hit by a car reversing out of the way of another car. Luckily it hit the parent and they were able to get up off the road, but I hate to think about how bad it could have been. My question for the evening was to ask "what budget had been made available for road and car park improvements along with green alternatives". Whilst the LEA recognised a major issue, the answer was none, as the planners hadn’t even looked at it yet. I was somewhat stunned that the lives of children and parents were such an afterthought.
  • One person in the audience read out a whole host of shocking issues and complications that had occurred in other schools during the building transition to two tier. Another former two tier teacher said the current hall couldn’t support the activities normally provided at the two tier primaries that she had taught at. I therefore have great apprehension we will end up with a long term building site or a building unfit for purpose.

OK so I’ve highlighted my worries and I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I left it there and didn’t highlight some positives. For me they were:
  • The two tier system would allow 7 terms for pupils to decide on their GCSEs, rather than the one term in the three tier system. I’m finding it somewhat rushed with my daughter only having one term. If the change to two tier didn’t take place, I’d be keen for the middle school to start this process off prior to the move to upper.
  • The location for the extra primary school class rooms seemed suitable and adequate, if separated from the main school.
  • The LEA were willing to consider changing the catchment area for the secondary school. This is long issue to discuss in itself so I won’t go into it on this post.

So apart from the above, what else would help? Firstly an open day at a nearby two tier primary and secondary school so that parents can look at each and see what they are like for themselves. Currently we only have other people’s words and views. I’d also like the consultation to include a vote. Parents should decide what happens to the schools that educate their children. There’s no denying that the overall majority of people present at the meeting had deep concerns over moving to two tier, but we can’t take that as the broad opinion of parents in general. I’d like to see a vote and the decision adhered to, rather than a few people before or against dictating to the rest what should happen. After all we are a democracy!

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