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Suffolk: County Council’s education ‘third-world’ says Labour councillor in heated debate

PUBLISHED: 11:19 21 March 2014 | UPDATED: 11:19 21 March 2014

Lisa Chambers of Suffolk County Council.

Lisa Chambers of Suffolk County Council.

Archant

Suffolk County Council’s Conservative administration was last night accused of providing a “third-world class” level of education in a heated debate.

A motion proposed by the council’s Labour group expressing “no confidence in the current political leadership of education in Suffolk” received the backing of 27 members of the council, however was defeated when 39 councillors voting against it. One councillor abstained.

The motion comes just weeks after Ofsted branded the council’s support for schools as “ineffective” and “weak” and amid criticism of the closure of middle schools in Bury St Edmunds.

During the debate the leader of the Labour group, Councillor Sandy Martin, said it was “no longer tenable for you to fondly hope that things will get better of their own accord.

“We are asking – demanding – that you spend the amount of money that you know it will cost to deliver the level of service which the young people in Suffolk deserve and which other local authorities in this country are able to achieve.”

Councillor Sonia Barker said the situation was “damaging the life chances of young people in this county”, while Councillor Sarah Adams said she was “saddened, disappointed and appalled that Suffolk is failing young people so badly”.

However the cabinet member for education, skills and young people, Lisa Chambers, rebutted those claims and said the council could have “absolute confidence” in their leadership.

She said schools were starting to catch up with Suffolk’s neighbours having climbed the Key Stage 2 league tables following last year’s results.

She added that 66% of schools were rated good or outstanding by Ofsted in 2012 compared to 70% now.

The Raising the Bar programme, she said, had “spawned a range of exciting initiatives” and the council was “pressing ahead with the redesign of the learning and improvement service”.

Much of the debate focused on the impact of the Schools Organisation Review (SOR) which has seen many parts of the county move from a three-tier to a two-tier education system. Suffolk County Council is currently trying to introduce the system in Bury St Edmunds.

Ms Chambers said: “The completion of SOR is a much needed change and the evidence behind it is very clear. Labour lacked the courage to take this decision.”

The council leader Mark Bee also said Labour had “shamefully ducked” the SOR, “which is now reaping rewards”.

Some councillors accused the current leadership of having become overly preoccupied with the SOR.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Penny Otton said: “I believe that you took your eye off the ball because you thought that SOR would be the solution to all your problems and it has not been and it proved to be a disaster in many areas.”

Councillor David Wood, also a Lib Dem, said: “When SOR took place you were so focused on that you let go what was happening elsewhere.”

Labour’s Councillor Peter Byatt said the leadership had pledged that “SOR would be carried through at any price” and the quality of education now offered was not “world class” but “third-world class”.

Councillor Graham Newman, who began the SOR when he held the education portfolio, said former middle schools which had been struggling were now starting to see signs of improvement.

“Don’t come telling me it hasn’t worked,” he said. “It has worked, it’s worked jolly well.”

Conservative Councillor Jane Storey said: “There has been a suggestion that SOR is not working and what’s brought up always is Lowestoft. I know there are a lot of people that think life begins and ends in Lowestoft but there are other areas.”

Haverhill, she said, was “doing very well” after undergoing the SOR.

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