West Suffolk: ‘Parents and schools must work together to improve education results’

Special Measures: Newmarket College

Special Measures: Newmarket College - Credit: PA

PARENTS must get more involved in their child’s education if results are to improve at west Suffolk schools.

The claim from Robin Millar, Forest Heath District Council cabinet member for families and communities, comes after a review of education attainment in the region following concerns about lower than average GCSE grades.

He said visits to pre-schools, primary, secondary schools and colleges suggested that shortcomings were the result of a lack of support from families and communities rather than failings with the curriculum or teaching.

Mr Millar said: “We were concerned about educational attainment in the district. When we looked at the whole question and one of the first things we realised is that actually the problem doesn’t start with GCSEs. We saw that you couldn’t fault Suffolk County Council in terms of the effort put into teachers, curriculum, facilities, things like that.

“The thing we felt was missing was that there was relatively little involvement for families and communities in a child’s education. That’s not to say families and communities should be teaching children.

“But if the child is in school for 15% of its time, they spend most of their time out of the school. It seems that the bigger influence on the child that was missing was the support of the family and those around them.”

Documents that will be discussed at tonight’s overview and scrutiny committee, where the educational attainment scrutiny review will be discussed, state that in 2011, 46% of students at Mildenhall College of Technology and 45% of Newmarket College students achieved four or more A* to C GCSEs. This compares to a Suffolk average of 55% and an England average of 58%.

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In 2012, five months after the review of schools was completed, 34% in Mildenhall and 28% in Newmarket gained A* to C and of compared to the county average of 51% and an England average of 59%.

Mr Millar, who said there was “nothing wrong” with Forest Heath’s secondary schools as places of learning, said the region’s teachers were aware that many of the problems they face are outside the school gates.

He added: “There is only so much you can do in a school. If the child goes with wrong attitude, the wrong diet, the wrong expectations, they are not going to learn no matter how good the teacher. That’s where education has missed out - that’s nationally - and we’re seeing the expression of that locally.”

Mr Millar said one example of how schools can work with parents to support the education of their child is through ‘homeschool contracts’ that set out the school’s expectations of parents’ roles in a child’s education.

He added: “It’s saying this is the deal, these are the things you are responsible for - you bring them here on time, you make sure they have had breakfast, that their uniform is clean. It is a partnership between parents and the school.”

Mr Millar, who predicted it would be a “long slow haul” before changes are seen, said Forest Heath was still discussed how to strengthen the ties between schools and family.

He added: “The days of the Government doing things to fix things are probably coming to end. This is more about helping communities to help themselves.”

He said a summit had been held in February where educators and charities talked about the region’s assets and strengths and how they could be joined together to create networks of support for schools through the community and children through their family.

Graham White, secretary of the Suffolk NUT, said it was important not to get “hung up” on GCSE results, but added: “We do need more parental support. I would always say to parents you need to support your children and value education because it is very important. “Especially in this day and age when qualification are regarded as bit more of a passport than they ever used to be.

“Children need to be encouraged to get the best education they can and if they’re not academic, they need to get the best vocational education they can.”

Adrian Orr, Suffolk County Council’s Interim Assistant Director for Learning and Improvement, said: “The county council values parental engagement in their children’s learning. We support and challenge schools to ensure that parents are seen as essential partners in their children’s education.

“The county council is also looking at ways that it can engage with parents to maximise the attainment and progress made by children. This is an important strand of work being developed through our Raising the Bar programme.”