Litmus tests and grade boundaries

The debate on my comments about schools in my area continues; a number of people have contacted me in support of my voicing my opinion, which makes a change! But some continue to challenge me on my take on things, my right to speak and the latest is criticism in what capacity I speak.

I think I have already blogged on why I feel I have the right to speak something about being elected. So turning to in what capacity I speak, I speak to raise concerns on behalf of those who elected me and whom I represent, I may have the honour to serve the whole of Suffolk in the County Council Cabinet and speak for the County Council on Health and Adult Care but first and foremost I represent the community I am from, born and bred, and always have and will speak up on their behalf.

So let’s turn to substantive point about my take on things with regards MildenhallCollege.

Firstly it’s a matter of record that last year Mildenhall College pupils achieved 46% 5 A*-C CGSEs including Maths and English, this being the recognised litmus test across the land.

In an article in the Bury Free Press

A round up of local schools was reported on and MildenhallCollege was amongst the mix and its reported that the number of students gaining 5 GCSEs at grades A*-C was at 94% which was up 6% on the previous year and this is a very commendable and to be congratulated.

But the article goes on to report the Headteacher, Susan Byles as saying “At this point in time we are unable to confirm the figure for the percentage of students achieving 5A*-C grades including Maths and English. “We are investigating our own results and will appeal to the exam board if we feel any of the students have been unfairly graded.”

Yet at the same time other schools in the article have declared their figures and its fair to say all are down, some more than others.

Now there are many ways to measure success such as the results in different subjects but any analysis that excludes Maths and English is in my opinion not correct the 3rs reading, writing and arithmetic are the backbone of life and work. 5A*-C grades including Maths and English is the litmus test.

We know from the work we are undertaking through the ‘Raising the Bar’ initiative that employers tell us they are unhappy at school leavers who have GCSEs but don’t seems to have good Maths and English skills which are essential whatever you go on to do.

Equally I think we are all aware that Headteachers and schools are up in arms about the summer grade boundaries and indeed some Local Education Authorities (LEA) currently Lambeth LEA, Leeds LEA and Manchester LEA are launching a legal challenge to OFQUAL and their grade boundaries; and I am aware of an number of schools in Suffolk whoa re asking for students to retake exams and for appealing other results.

I think it’s fair to say a complete mess and clearly not of students or schools choosing at all.

I have been contacted by two parents who have spoken to me about their children who are either in the middle of taking the 1st years GCSE modules and feel that their child has been marked down and the impact this will have on their second year’s work and chances of achieving what they were planned and want to achieve; and a couple who children have not got the GCSEs C grades they needed to continue on to college and the devastating effect this was having.

Whilst we can debate the effects of a change of government and the impact this has had on the various Boards grade boundaries the one thing that does spring to my mind is how complete this has all become and how it needs to be simpler; this is meant to be about a general certificate of education a guide for colleges, university and employers as to the ability of students at a point in their lives, a measurable standard seems to have been lost in its complexity and as I have said I think any measurable standard must include Maths and English.

But for all that I cannot see why to date Mildenhall College has still have not published the result of this litmus test of the number of pupils achieving 5 A*-C CGSEs including Maths and English; others have albeit with what appears to be an justifiable caveat.

Under the way education is organised that is the school’s prerogative and SCC will honour their wishes and not publish the results, even if they and I as the local member who has a number of my residents attending the school, are aware of them.

Now of course we await a number of things:

We wait to see if the grade boundaries shift, although I suspect that they won’t, as I am told that generally the current remarking that is taking place is not shifting the grade boundaries.

We wait to see the results when published by the Department of Education because even if a school won’t they will publish all result later in the year as they normally do.

At a more detailed level we also wait to see what modules pupils took in the January and in the early summer, no one disputes the January grade boundaries.

With MildenhallCollege I hope I have been clear that I think the teachers and pupils work hard, I am a part of the team who are very aware and working on how to solve the ageing building issue which would be a challenge to any school

I am also very aware that SCC needs to do all it can to make sure we support our schools and that is why we have reorganised from three to two tier, that’s why I chaired a considerable body of public engagement in the shape of the new Forest Health Pyramid, that why I support the Free school in Brandon and have worked hard to make sure residents of the area have Free School Transport to it and have pressed hard and achieved considerable investment in my Division’s Primary Schools.

I do not single out a particular school or any school although its far to say my division only has one establish secondary school so I do sort of only focus on the College; I praise where praise is due but I am not here to ignore the concerns I and my residents have, I am here to champion those concerns.

Having said that when will these key results be published?

So when will my residents be able to see MildenhallCollege’s performance not just the figures they wish to release but the all important litmus test. Yes there is the current debacle of the grade boundaries; but that does not significantly alter the context of the schools performance; the context of past cohort’s achievements, and importantly the context of all the secondary schools in Suffolk; indeed perhaps it will be also worth considering the performance in light of the results of our other local secondary schools not in Suffolk but local to us here on the borders of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk such a Methwold, Thetford, Soham as well as Newmarket.

I think it would be far healthier to publish the day after the pupils get their results I think it would be far healthier for all schools to be required to so this. This might well change with the normal year’s appeals; this might change by a bigger margin this year for the reasons we all know but to my mind are we to wait until DE publish?

Then and only then will people will be able to form their own opinion.

As the Suffolk County Council member for Row Health I was elected to represent the people of my division and as such I am perfectly entitled to hold our schools, all our schools to account, I have and will continue to do so.

Norfolk and Suffolk PCC Conservative Candidates out and about

On Friday morning I joined Tim Passmore our Conservative candidate for the Police and Crime Commissioner out in Mildenhall Market and where as previously not many people said they had heard of the election, many people said not only had they would be voting for Tim, his campaign really seems to be gathering momentum and that is because he is working hard travelling the length and breadth of the county unless some other candidates I could mention. Tim gets our rural communities and he gets the issues in places like Haverhill, Lowestoft and Ipswich as well; he has been out and about there regularly too.

On Saturday morning I travelled to Swaffham to be at Jamie Athill’s launch of his Manifesto before we went on a walk about around Swaffham Market. Again people seem to be waking up to the election now their polling card has appeared and I really loved the comment from one old boy when I mentioned other candidates and of Stephen Morphue he said “well he’d get a nose bleed this far west of Norwich”, couldn’t of put it better myself! Jamie is absolutely the right man for the job; he understands rural issues and will be a breath of fresh air helping the police serve their communities across Norfolk from the city issues in Norwich to the smallest rural hamlets.

A long but vital day

Yesterday we had the longest SCC Cabinet meeting I think I can recall, it started at 11am and finished at 5:50pm with a half hour break for lunch made it 6 hours and 20 minutes! which along with the 90 minute cabinet pre-meeting and then off to FHDC for well another an hour and a half Conservative Group meeting made for a very long day.

I suppose I did not help as the first item which was about the transfer of Suffolk’s Care homes to Care UK and them investing £60M in new homes across Suffolk, came with a 40 page report (available on the SCC web site) setting out the conclusion of a body of work that has been some 20 years in the making, with successive administrations having grappled with our Residential Care homes with a refit here and a sale there. The paper set out the facts and figures of a landmark deal to support our residents and bring significant investment in the shape of 10 new Care Homes.

But what was excellent was the quality of the discussion we had exploring the merits of my proposal and was almost entirely focused on its impact on our resident in their homes.

Two years ago almost to the day I asked the cabinet to begin a process to look at our strategy to address care homes almost all of which are now 40 years old. When you compare them to modern homes and the facilities they have as much as they are all loved by those who live in them; are really stating not only to be a challenge to repair and keep going but also to the staff to deliver quality and the right care needed by the increasing care needs of our residents, as one Care Home Manager put it in one of my visits, 20 years ago people arrived with suitcases now they arrive in ambulances, we support people at home far better than we did and accordingly only those with more complex needs are coming to our and private homes.

I started the initial review process by going to all 16 of our Care homes to discuss in person our thoughts and to learn what our residents and families most values about their homes and I ended the process by fulfilling my promise to go back to all 16 and personally explain our thoughts.

In all the papers and discussions that has taken place it’s not until you get a chance to sit down with resident and families or debate it as fully as we did yesterday that you understand the importance of nursing care as an integral part of a care home; that you realise just what a step up Care UK will bring.

Today in our homes a resident can only be supported on their care journey up to the limit of care that District nurses can provide on their visits; once your needs become more complex you have to leave which is hugely upsetting to residents, families and Staff and the enhanced offer that Care UK will be able to bring is one of the things that so many families have really said they want to see. We simply can’t in our homes because they are firstly too small to have a nursing unit and almost all of our room sizes would not allow the equipment needs to be addressed, Care UK room sizes are significantly bigger than ours allowing the space for equipment and to provide nursing care.

I pick this point out as one of the many points we debated yesterday that resulted in the Cabinet unanimous decision that this is the right way forward.

I spoke with Paul Geater chief political reporter for the EADT after the debate and he told me we had discussed it for 2 hours and 10 minutes. In short not only the longest debate in my time in the cabinet but also perhaps the most detailed and rigorous body of work the council has undertaken to find a solution that truly is a Landmark deal, other Councils have closed homes, other Councils have tried to sell their Care Homes and failed, other Councils have had private providers take over their homes, but almost none have been able to have their homes taken over and then 10 new homes built to replace the others, a Landmark deal indeed.

A right to speak?

It’s been a interesting few days since my discussion with Mildenhall Parish Council about the exam results at Mildenhall College made the front page of the Mildenhall Journal with the headline “Head hits back at exam jibe”. It has caused a flurry on twitter, not all positive and I have had a number of calls from parents all of which have been broadly positive, one saying “its about time someone actually told it like it is” he went on to say that standards are my responsibility to which I said actually I think they are all our responsibility, as I think they are.

As an elected County Councillor representing the residents in my division who predominately send their children to Mildenhall College I think I am representing my community in speaking about the exam results and the performance of the school. It’s performance is a regular feature in my post bag and thus I watch their results with great interest, As a cabinet member of the County Council I also see every performance league table comparing our entire Suffolk school system and comparisons with similar County result from across the country, all of which I read with equal great interest. I am in regular contact with its Governors and its head teacher Susan Byles, even if she does not think I should comment saying in the Mildenhall Journal “I don’t really think he is the best person to be making statements about the college” – If I am not well placed to make comment then I do wonder who is?

I take a keen interest in all the schools in my division and the secondary schools they feed. Equally my views take account of the improving performance, which is to be commented and I have and do but in the context of Suffolk’s other secondary schools, there is much room for improvement, indeed all of our schools could make improvements and I equally think that the county must support that improvement that’s why we have changed from three to two tier, that’s why we support the free school movement, that why we have established ‘Raising the Bar’ with the Royal Society of Arts, all initiatives to see our schools make the improvement we all want to see.

I was the Chairman of the local panel work involving literally 100’s of people that oversaw the local implementation of the Suffolk County Council’s decision to rightly change from three tier to two tier; a decision that is already showing a marked improvement in key stage two performance in those areas that went first. I pressed hard for the millions of pounds of investment poured in new school buildings and other improvements in Beck Row, West Row, and Lakenheath Primary Schools and pushed, along with Cllr. Lisa Chambers, for the £10M Red Lodge Primary, to be opened early as a replacement for Tuddenham Primary.

I am also a supporter of the new Free School at Brandon and have lobbied and been successful in changing the transport proposals and now policy of the County Council for Lakenheath and today Parents have the choice to send their children to Mildenhall or Brandon secondary schools on Free School Transport.

A number of parents have talked to me about the merits or otherwise of both schools and I have always talked about the known improving performance of Mildenhall, albeit from a very average base set against the untested but interesting ideas emerging from the Brandon Free school. Personally I think competition is a good thing and it will be interesting to see over the coming years how the offer of both schools progresses.

All of us are aware of the challenges facing the ageing buildings of Mildenhall College and so far this year have attended 4 meetings working with fellow County and District Councillors looking at how to solve the problems and I am championing the College in those efforts.

Being a County Councillor has many responsibilities and one of them is to support and challenge our schools and to meet and address the concerns of parents who talk to me about our schools, and I will continue to do just that.

This is your life – Daphne Savage

Yesterday afternoon after the AGM of AGE UK Suffolk, the staff surprised its retiring CE Daphne Savage with a ‘This is your life’  farewell where she was joined on stage by her family then Charlie Haylock who compared the ‘show’ invited a number fo staff and people who had worked with her over the years to come on stage and say a few words and I was delighted to be one of them. At the end of the event Daphne’s first granddaughter made an appearance and seems as comfortable on the stage as Daphne was.

Daphne is not retiring as she is the inagural Chairman of the new Suffolk Older Peoples Council; an organsiation I am so very keen on and as I said in closing my few words that means she’ll still be about to share her opinions on the services we seek to provide, and be there to give me a hard time!

Armed Forces Community Covenant Signing Ceremony

This morning I had the pleasure of attending the signing of the Suffolk Armed Forces Community Covenant.  The Community Covenant is a voluntary statement of support between a civilian population and its local Armed Forces Community. 

The signing is designed to complement the National Armed Forces Covenant that outlines the moral obligation between the Nation, the Government and the Armed Forces at a local level.

The purpose of this Community Covenant is to encourage support for the Armed Forces Community of serving personnel, Veterans, their families and widow(er)s working and residing in Suffolk and to recognise and remember the sacrifices made by members of this Armed Forces Community, particularly those who have given the most.

The Covenant is an agreement between the county of Suffolk, representatives of the charitable and voluntary sectors, us as residents of Suffolk and the Armed Forces Community in here in our County.

I passionately believe we should recognise the contribution of the Armed Forces for and across Suffolk and I know from conversations with Councillors across the County that we all hare this view whatever party we are from.

The world of the NHS

Last night I was invited to be a guest of NHS Innnovations East at the Health Enterprise East Annual Innovation Competion Awards Dinner 2012, the reason for it is that we are about to do something similar and I am on a ‘Dragons Den’ style panel at an event in December being organised by Improvement East to promote innovation in Social Care.

It was a good evening as I was on a Suffolk Table with the Diabetes Team from Ipswich Hospital who were there with their ‘The Ipswich Touch Test’ (IpTT), I had a long conversation with the lead Dr. Gerry Rayman MD FRCP who came up with this remarkable simply innovation so remarkable in fact that they won the Award for Disease prevention, screening & diagnosis.

I also had a chance to catch up with both Ann Tate Chairman of Ipswich Hosital about some of their operational issues and how we can work better together particualrly around how to keep older people out of hospital. I also had a long chat with Roger Quince Chairman of the West Suffolk Hospital about their longer term plans and how we will work with the new Serco operated community services. An excellent evening in what has been another world as we all start to learn how to work better together, hopefully!

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