Mildenhall College’s Academy Proposal

On Tuesday night I took time out from campaigning to attend a really important meeting that will have a significant effect on our community’s parents and children.

chatting with Ian Cleland Chief Executive of Academy Transformation Trust

chatting with Ian Cleland Chief Executive of Academy Transformation Trust

It was an open meeting at Mildenhall College to discuss their proposals to be come an Academy and to meet the organisation who they want to work with through the process, Academy Transformation Trust (ATT).

I was quite shocked that not one of my opponents bothered to turn up, I have read many things in others election leaflets that has nothing to do with the County Council elections or the work of the County Council but education is a County Council matter and how we go about improving the standards in our schools is of great concern to parents; so a hour spent in the principle school in our area surely is not too much to ask, apparently it is!

Representing an area is far more that stuffing a leaflet through door its about actually understand and influencing the decisions that are being made, as an elected representative that’s the job.

The proposal is that Mildenhall College will become Mildenhall College Academy and Tuesday was a chance to meet and question Keith Bishop, Regional operations Director for ATT and Ian Cleland Chief Executive of ATT

I think this is great news for our school children in the three primary schools in Row Heath parents will have genuine choice in the future of an Academy in Mildenhall or the new Breckland Free School in Brandon. In Lakenheath I battled and secured free school transport to either.

I asked a couple of questions in the Q&A session and was pleased to learn that the Sponsor and the school are determined that the school remains a community one, that’s code for will not have a selective admissions policy and that they will seek to expand as housing numbers bring more children to our area.

Ian went on to explain their ambitions for Mildenhall to become a centre of excellent for leading edge technology with state of the art gaming and 3-D rendering facilities and courses and a wider further education offer.

Also about their organisation and the network of 17 Academies, 9 secondary’s schools and 7 primary schools they will provide including Methwold High School now called Iceni Academy which has become an Academy with the help of ATT.

Beyond working to raise the standards in the school one of the other challenges is the school building with a split site and continuing failure of the system buildings that makes up the bulk of the school. After the meeting I had a chat with Ian Cleland and we talked about our shared ambitions for single public sector hub on the Riverside School site in Mildenhall bringing investment and state of the art facilities for the school, Leisure, community and local government.

Exciting times ahead for our Row Heath’s children’s education.

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.

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.

%d bloggers like this: