Suffolk: Could do better – report’s verdict on Suffolk teaching as radical solutions proposed in Raising the Bar report

Mark Bee

Mark Bee - Credit: Ashley Pickering

Complacency among some teachers – and an insular approach to education – have contributed to Suffolk’s decline in national league tables.

The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce’s report, entitled “No School an Island”, contains some hard-hitting comments about the standard of teaching and the challenges faced in trying to improve educational achievement in Suffolk.

But among its many recommendations for improvement is the radical proposal for the county council to transfer its education support services to a company controlled by the schools themselves in a bid to boost school performance.

It proposes that education support services currently provided directly by the county could be transferred to a new social enterprise company – similar to that which runs the county’s library service.

That would be 20% owned by the local authority and 80% owned by schools themselves – a similar set-up already exists in Hertfordshire.


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The hard-hitting document warns that there is a sense of complacency among those who do not believe that change is needed.

Too many Suffolk teachers have not taught anywhere else and fears that without specific targets being set they may be willing to accept merely adequate results rather than aiming for excellence, it states.

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The report says: “Taking a purely informational approach is unlikely to bring about a change in behaviour. These attitudes need to be tackled head-on; otherwise there is a danger of securing only superficial agreement.”

The report says there has been an impetus for improvement in some large cities that is lacking in Suffolk. And there are serious problems of isolation among Suffolk youngsters living in rural areas – especially since the abolition of the Suffolk eXplore card two years ago.

Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee said improving schools would be the cornerstone of the next four years.

He said: “Some of the results we have seen recently have been simply unacceptable. Quite clearly, something had to change. And now it is changing. While we will formally respond to these recommendations in the summer, there will be some recommendations we can implement straight away, and, where possible, that’s what we will do.”

The report says: “Research shows that the quality of teaching in schools and classrooms is the single biggest school-level factor affecting student performance and school effectiveness.”

The report warns that many Suffolk teachers are not adequately challenged and there is not the incentive given to them to improve. Added to this there is a lack of leadership and not enough sharing of knowledge and evidence of the best way of working.

The report also says that too many teachers in Suffolk have too little experience of teaching more widely – many have only ever taught in the county and have no knowledge of how education has evolved in other places.

It also says that while there are outstanding heads and college principals, too many are focused too much on their own establishment and the community it serves and not enough attention is given to the education system in the county as a whole.

One of the more controversial recommendations is that schools with fewer than 100 pupils should be “federated” with other schools with an executive leadership – small schools should lose their individual headteachers.

Governors should take a greater role in challenging headteachers and principals – too often they were left relying on reports from senior staff about how a school was performing and were therefore unable to make an independent decision.

The report comes up with 20 recommendations aimed at improving teaching and education generally.

One of the key recommendations in the report is the establishment of a new strategic partnership between Suffolk and the London borough of Hackney, which has seen considerable improvement in its Key Stage 2 and GCSE results over the past few years.

Yesterday, teachers and pupils from three Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds primary schools visited Holy Trinity Primary School in Hackney to find out more about the systems and strategies that could help trigger progress in Suffolk.

The county is also looking at ways of improving the recruitment of teachers and ensuring more are attracted from outside the county to bring fresh ideas with them.

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