What school changes mean
As teachers and schoolchildren enjoy a well-earned summer break, as executive member for children’s services at Central Bedfordshire Council I’ve been reflecting on the past school year and looking ahead.
When I was asked to take on the brief for education at the council, I was enthusiastic about doing whatever we could to help our children achieve their potential, both academically and in terms of their personal development.
And, despite the pretty fundamental changes that are taking place in the system, I remain positive.
Having said this, I don’t underestimate the impact of the changes, for families and for teachers. National changes are having a big impact locally.
Schools are increasingly independent of the local authority. As many elect to become academies, their funding will come direct from national government and they have freedom to consult on changing their age ranges.
So, in Houghton Regis, the system is developing, through feedback from parents, to become essentially a two- tier model (with primary and secondary schools).
Whereas in Dunstable, the conventional model for Bedfordshire of three tiers (first, middle and upper schools) remains at this point.
This choice that is offered to parents is not a one-size-fits-all system and I understand that this variety is not the comfortable and predicable pathway that some might like to see.
However, we have never had that in Dunstable and Houghton Regis and to pretend so would be looking through rose-tinted glasses.
This change, these choices, that will soon become available to parents do not mean that our children’s education will be damaged. Indeed, the motivation for change is to improve educational attainment and I am determined that we achieve better outcomes for our children.
And I am doing this not by dictating and forcing schools to close (like Suffolk County Council is doing by closing all middle schools whether they are good or bad) but by allowing choice.
The whole rationale for the Government’s approach is that teachers, governors and parents are the best people to improve the standards. Top down reorganisations and over regulation are seen to undermine the ability of schools to be innovative in developing services that meet the needs of their communities.
Across Bedfordshire, the communities of schools are rising to the opportunities of academies, free schools, teaching schools and many other options. Many of the teachers, governors and parents I have met feel liberated by these opportunities and I have not heard anyone suggesting that a top down centrally dictated approach would be a good thing.
We need to be realistic about the past in Bedfordshire. Previous authorities’ attempts to impose a universal model failed to inspire confidence among the public or schools. And to be frank results across schools have historically been less impressive than those of neighbouring areas.
Put in this context, the organic development of the education system, driven by schools and parents, is cause for optimism rather than concern.
The council has and will continue to be directly involved with schools, regardless of whether they are academies or continue to be maintained by the authority.
Our job is to support the schools to make the most of the new freedoms and flexibilities while ensuring that there are sufficient school places for all Central Bedfordshire children.
We will also do all we can to provide information and advice to parents about the changes and what they mean for them.
Together, we want to keep our focus on improving the results of our children. Last year, we saw a 5.2% increase in the number of students reaching the government’s Gold Standard and getting five or more A* to C grades, including English and maths, at GCSE.
We’re looking forward to hearing about the results that our students will be getting next month – and the Key Stage Two test results that will be published in September.
I hope all our students have a great summer break and will return to their studies refreshed and re-energised for the next academic year and all the opportunities this will bring.
> Do you agree with Councillor Versallion’s views on education in Central Beds?
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Tuesday 18 June 2013
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