Project to boost education performance set for 2020 refresh
PUBLISHED: 20:35 07 January 2020 | UPDATED: 20:35 07 January 2020
A key project to raise educational standards in Suffolk is “not null and void” council chiefs insist, despite fears that spending has plummeted.
Suffolk County Council data suggested that funding had been slashed from more than £900,000 in 2016/17 to just £11,000 last year on the Raising the Bar scheme.
But Conservative cabinet member for education Mary Evans said that had "now been absorbed into mainstream budgets".
She said: "That was a dedicated £2million pot that has now run its course but the work it kick-started continues to be funded from the mainstream budgets."
It led to fears raised during Tuesday's budget scrutiny meeting that the project, aimed at boosting Suffolk's education standing, was dead in the water.
But Mrs Evans said plans for a refresh were in the pipeline.
"It's not null and void, it's very much a work in progress," she said.
"From when it was first produced there was a clear change in how Suffolk has performed in the league tables.
"But Raising the Bar does need a refresh since we had the first challenges.
"That's one thing we will look at how we will make it relevant when so many more schools are academies.
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"It's not just about finance, it's got to be about standards and raising education."
Many of Suffolk's schools are now academies which are monitored by central government rather than the local authority, which means measures to improve the under-performing establishments are the responsibility of the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC).
Mrs Evans added that meetings would be held with academy chiefs and with the RSC.
A timeline for when Raising the Bar will be reassessed has not yet been laid out, but could be in the form of a cross-party task force.
The council's cabinet backed a two year extension of the scheme in February 2018, meaning it was due for a fresh look next month.
The project, launched in 2012, includes the annual awards ceremony to recognise achievement in the industry, as well as programmes to support schools, governors and make more information accessible for parents.
Then-cabinet member Gordon Jones said he wanted the county to be among the top 25% nationally for performance.
Councillor Jack Abbott, Labour education spokesman, said: "At a time when one in five Suffolk schools either 'Requires Improvement' or are 'Inadequate', it is clear that Raising the Bar has slipped out of sight, out of mind for the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council.
"After failing to reach the targets they themselves set for Raising the Bar, the Tories first watered down their ambitions, before quietly reducing spending completely. It is an admission that it simply hasn't worked.
"They were adamant that Raising the Bar is not 'null and void', but produced no evidence to indicate their ongoing support for the scheme.
"Vague, on-the-spot promises of a refresh simply won't cut it when it comes to education - our children and schools need to be more than an afterthought. It is clear we need a new strategy for driving up school standards in Suffolk and I expect to see this work begin in earnest."