Category Archives: schools

Suffolk CC: June Whats been happening

LibDems in Woodbridge raise awareness of the school transport proposals – and what they will mean to everyone

Suffolk shows overwhelming public opposition to  proposed Tory school transport changes-   Leaked documents from Suffolk County Council show overwhelming public opposition to proposed school transport changes. Of the 3600 responses to Suffolk County Council’s recent home-to-school transport consultation, 85% “strongly oppose” the proposals and a further 5% “oppose” them.

This is the most responses received by a Consultation in recent years, and it is clear that parents, teachers and communities have very serious concerns about the proposals.

The Cabinet is due to make a decision on changing the school transport policy on Tuesday 19 June. Suffolk Lib Dems have opposed the proposed changes since they were first announced in September and we will continue to raise our concerns at the Cabinet meeting.

New Council Leader elected  Following the recent Conservative Group leadership challenge, Cllr Matthew Hicks has been elected as the new Leader of Suffolk County Council, replacing  hard-liner Cllr Colin Noble. His Deputy will be Mary Evans, former Chair of Scrutiny, and previously Chair of the highly effective crossparty Transport & Highways Policy Development Panel, before Cllr Noble abolished these on becoming leader a couple of years back.

Cllr Hicks has promised us a “new era” of politics at the Council, with a focus on mutual respect, collaboration and co-operation. We hope he will be more open to working with, and listening to, councillors from other parties.

The first major change has been the replacement of  the only-just-established  unwieldy and untransparent Cabinet Committees with new Policy Development Panels. We do not currently have full details on how these will operate but, well-organised, they provide excellent crossparty consensus.

Some ‘Outstanding’ Suffolk schools in Suffolk have had no Ofsted inspection for a decade   The National Audit Office has revealed that over 1600 schools in the UK have not been inspected by Ofsted for 6+ years!

In Suffolk, 23 outstanding schools – almost half of those rated ‘outstanding’ – have not been inspected for at least 6 years.  SIX of these schools were last inspected over a decade ago! This means that whole cohorts of students have gone through school without a single Ofsted inspection.

LDGI Spokesperson for Education, Lib Dem  Cllr Penny Otton, raised the issue and her concerns at a Council meeting on 24 May. The Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Education, Gordon Jones, assured her that he shared her concerns and would raise it with the head of Ofsted.

Ofsted have said that the majority of ‘outstanding’ schools are exempt by law from inspections. However, if a number of concerns or complaints are raised against a school, they would have the power to carry out an inspection.

Citizens rights of EU born residents  Our very own Lib Dem County Councillor Inga Lockington hit national and international headlines when the Home Office turned down her application for citizenship despite her 40 years uninterrupted  residence in the UK, married to an English doctor, her 19 years as an Ipswich Borough Councillor, her 17 years as a Suffolk County Councillor and a stint as Mayor of Ipswich! Apparently the Home Office felt she couldn’t prove residence!

Although Inga’s story ended with an apology and an offer of citizenship, she points out this would not have been the case for many others in her situation.

At May’s full council, Lib Dem leader Cllr Caroline Page  asked Matthew Hicks whether Suffolk was doing enough  to support such cases of Home Office injustice amongst its residents. Specifically whether we funded the Suffolk Law Centre -the only free law centre in Suffolk- and whether he would be prepared to talk to Centre Director Audrey Ludwig about unmet needs? The reply was cautious, unspecific, and referred to Suffolk’s CABs – all of which had funding cuts in SCC’s 2018 budget.

Unitary council discussions on hold? Back in March, it was announced that Colin Noble had unilaterally commissioned the think-tank Respublica to produce a report outlining the options for a unitary council in Suffolk. This news was not well-received by the (almost all Conservative) leaders of District and Borough Councils, who had not been consulted by Cllr Noble.

However, in the lead-up to the Conservative Group leadership election in May, Cllr Noble announced that work producing the report had been suspended. It is not yet clear whether this work will resume under the new leader, Cllr Hicks.

Possible U-turn on Lowestoft records office At Council on 24 May, a petition was presented by the Save Our Record Office (SORO) campaign group, calling on the Council to reverse the decision to close the Lowestoft Record Office.

Cllr Hicks responded by acknowledging the importance of keeping local records in Lowestoft, and pledged to work with local residents and councillors to develop a long-term, sustainable solution for the storage of archives in the north of the county.However, he made it clear that there is currently no capital or revenue budget available for the project, and so the council would need to seek funding to help deliver it.

New development with affordable homes in Cockfield  On 15 May, the Cabinet approved proposals for the development of a 4.5 acre site near Cockfield, which is owned as part of its County Farms estate. The development will be comprised of 51 units, including 12 affordable rented homes. There will also be homes specifically for first-time buyers, affordable shared ownership homes, and self-build plots.

This project is being treated as a pilot for future developments on Council owned land. The County Council is planning to work closely with design and property partners, and there will be a particular focus on local needs and benefits for the local community. The council will also benefit from financial returns as a result of developing the land.

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SCC Annual Executive Statement: LibDem Response

photo: Caroline PageAfter a week when momentous change has been initiated by a referendum result that many did not expect, it feels strange to reflect on the more mundane but nevertheless important issues of the last year.

Where to begin? The financial challenge and the Council Tax?  The administration promised no rises in council tax for four years, ignoring the challenging social care needs of an increasing elderly population.  They have met those needs by outsourcing and changing services in a way that makes it difficult to be sure if all those who need our help get enough of it.

This year, after government encouragement the Conservatives have now introduced a special 2% precept -not a council tax rise – to meet the steadily increasing demand for care. We welcome the move and look forward to knowing just where this is spent.

Had the administration raised the council tax by a similar amount, we all would have been challenged by the need to find an extra £26 or so per household but it would have gone some way to fill the gap left by cuts to government grants.

A feature of the year has been the continuing, cross party, councillor discontent with the outsourced Highways contract. High design costs and slow response to the need for work makes it impossible for councillors to use our individual highways budgets to meet residents’ reasonable demands.  It increases discontent and confirms the public mistrust of politicians.  Conservatives  believe in the outsourcing model, they let the contract -can we see some effective delivery please?

In the education arena we are pleased to see Suffolk – at last – moving up from so close to the bottom of the league tables. Unfortunately, poor past performance leaves our schools at risk of forced conversion to academy status.  That is a transition many do not want but our poor management performance leaves little choice.  The academy structure in our view leaves management overhead spread across a much smaller base.  Dedicated leaders may of course produce outstanding results but the record is far from perfect.

We don’t want to be entirely critical. We applaud Conservative actions to focus intensive action on troubled families and on making every intervention count.  The campaign to recruit more foster carers was first class

We thank the administration for the way they have kept us informed as the devolution proposals developed, a pleasant example of openness and honesty. It will be good if the public get the same feeling.  However,  we will no doubt discuss the public consultation which appears to be heading for the summer holiday period.

Saving money on services like Community Transport or Park and Ride is short sighted. If the administration is so intent on new models then they  need to fully finance the transition to working services.  When we say ‘working services’ we mean working for everybody –  but in Mid Suffolk, older people will no longer be able to use their bus passes.

Dave Wood is pleased DEFRA have noted the importance of our protected landscapes and have guaranteed the grant to our AONB’s with a slight rise in funding. The county has followed suit, sadly without the increase.

One can’t close without a comment on Brexit. We have a new challenge. We are appalled that our nation is not mature enough to stick with our European friends and solve their problems. We prefer to abandon them to their fate and seek a better future in the past.  We hope that the course back to 1930 nationalistic attitudes will not lead to a spread of behaviours like those in Ukraine.

One wonders how many who believe our trade will now grow unencumbered by regulation have first-hand experience of the competence and skill of our competitors in other nations and of the international regulation that exists.

We can’t sell railways and steam engines to the empire any more. We need many more companies like ARM in Cambridge if we are to succeed. It is doubtful whether we have them.

One hopes the Conservatives the vision our new future will require, that nationally, they will stop rewarding the rich and punishing the poor who have suffered disproportionately the price of austerity. We need to get them back on side.

Where our consciences allow we LibDems will support efforts to survive and prosper in the new Great Britain, although of course we would prefer to be heading in a different direction.

John Field
Deputy Leader

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Suffolks Schools – the link between poverty and education

So NOW the report on health in Suffolk has again pointed out the link between poor education results and poverty in Ipswich and Lowestoft, maybe the county council will at last take notice of what we have been saying and do something about it?  or are they just waiting until the schools are forced to become Academies –  then can let someone else take the blame???

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SCC New Leader and LibDem’s midterm response

So, after all the lead-in,  the new leader of Suffolk County Council – Colin Noble – was elected without a hitch at today’s Suffolk Full Council. That is – every single Conservative, apart from Cllr Bee, turned up, and obediently voted him in.

A rainbow coalition of the opposition – the serried ranks of the LibDem, Labour, Independent, Green and UKIP joined forces to vote against him. A  few were absent. Brian Riley was – we presume –  in North Carolina.  Colin Noble was elected – third time lucky – 37:31. No abstentions. Time will tell where this far-from-ringing endorsement will lead.

Lib Dem Leader’s Response to  SCC Leader’s Executive Statement

The recent General Election proved a godsend for those opposite  – not just the result. What the campaign also managed to hide from the public scrutiny was the battle that seemed to be going on within the party who are in charge of the administration of our County.  Is such a seemingly divided party the best to be in charge at the present time?   Writers of  soap operas – Eastenders and Coronation Street – couldn’t have wished for better material for one of their productions, because believe me, to the casual observer that’s what it looked like!

That brings us to the present and one must wonder – is this the dawning of a new age or are we about to travel back in time.  We are all aware the new leader has a habit of looking back into the dim and distant past so God forbid,  are we about to see the re launch of THE NEW STRATEGIC DIRECTION and all that entailed?

Looking back over the past year:  yes, the roll-out of superfast broadband is proving to be a success –  although I still have a job persuading some of my electorate that it is coming. We must also applaud the roll-out of the Sunday Bus services in some rural areas – something that is essential to the way of life in these areas.

But sadly the last year has been overshadowed by the headlines Suffolk has attracted this week  – “County Slow to Improve Schools”, “Suffolk County Council too Slow” and “Not Enough is Being Done To Improve School Standards in Suffolk” – these are just but a few we have seen this very week.

We have heard the excuses and the supposed successes but this report is just not good enough.   It’s not good for our children, our future, our parents, our reputation and Suffolk as a whole.

When you consider that 25,000 children,  very nearly  the capacity of the football stadium next door,  attend schools that are classified as requiring improvement or are inadequate,  that clearly is not good enough.  This is especially so when most of those children live in Suffolk’s two largest towns,  Ipswich and Lowestoft.   Once again it has taken an Ofsted inspection to highlight our failings.   How many more times are we going to allow this to happen.   It would appear that the Raising the Bar Initiative is not working as it clearly needs to Raise its own standards.  Only this year we have seen Make Every Intervention Count by restructuring the schools improvement services to save a further £5 million.   Surely the time has come to use some of the Suffolk Council Taxpayers’ money being secreted away in reserves to seriously invest in the education of our children. After all we talk about what a wonderful County we have,  what opportunities we have here,  and will have here.   Our children are the future of Suffolk and we want them to be part of this story so let’s be serious about their future and put the resources where they are needed,  not just for education but also lets start reducing these levels of deprivation and see a real rise in attainment.

The care of our elderly has also come under the spotlight recently with the problems surrounding Care UK.  Reassurances were received that problems had been dealt with but then it all resurfaces again. Similarly with our highways contract all is not plan sailing there yet. We were told that by outsourcing these contracts it is the way forward but one must ask the question is it.

So as a mid – term report one can say, shown a slight improvement in some areas but could do better and in some areas MUST do better.

David Wood

Leader Lib Dem Group

You can read David’s tribute to Mark here

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Suffolk Schools – two- and three-tier education

Penny Otton SCCI am of course extremely pleased to learn that education results in Suffolk are at last beginning to improve.

However to still be so near the bottom of the table is not only disturbing , but  ironic,  in that two of the best performing secondary schools in the County are in Bury St. Edmunds, where there is still a three tier school system.

Conservatives in Suffolk have spent an undeclared amount – which must run into tens of millions of pounds – on reorganising from three to two tier schooling.

The independent report by Ofsted last year on Suffolk schools  gave a damning verdict on the council’s performance of supporting county run schools and challenging academies, stating  “The Local Authority arrangements for supporting school improvement are ineffective.”

At the very start of the schools reorganisation Liberal Democrat councillors warned that the benefits would be minimal –  as poor school performance was related to deprivation not school structure.  Year on year we challenged Conservative cuts to the funding for school improvement. They seemed hell-bent on continuing with this very costly process, whilst Suffolk plummeted down the national education league tables.

A whole generation of school children have now been through Suffolk schools that have failed to improve . Perhaps those in charge should pause now to reflect on where the time , money and expertise would have been better spent.

Penny Otton

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Suffolk Lib Dem Group: Suffolk’s 2015-16 Budget

BannerThis year we have chosen not to attempt a detailed amendment to the budget but to comment on matters of principal at a strategic level on those service areas we consider most important.

The Liberal Democrat group is fully aware of the overall financial situation and supports the government focus on reducing the budget deficit.  However it believes that many services provided by local government are valuable and should not be a first priority for cuts.

We believe that the county should use the resources provided by government and those it raises locally to support the local population and the economy.  The Tories have diverted significant funds into reserves “for a rainy day”, and we have seen reserves grow dramatically during the financial crisis.  They appear to be saving for a “rainy decade” while cutting services NOW.  Funds could be used on today’s issues using reserves set aside for activities that will never occur.

The county must fund infrastructure that supports the local economy and ensure it is fit for purpose.  For broadband we can see some progress but highways maintenance is slow and inadequate.

The county should provide services that support a good quality of life for vulnerable people and those who have difficulty getting work.  We need to help people into work or help them into work re-enabling people who have had problems whenever possible.

ACS–Services for the elderly and vulnerable   Within ACS the administration continuously seeks to reduce demand making no increase for inflation or demographic change.  We support continuous pressure to improve efficiency removing bureaucracy and deploying new techniques and technology.  However, we must ensure that people are not just forced out of relative low cost services into those with much higher spend.  Into acute hospitals due to a lack of care places for instance.  The county should collect data on local needs, understand it and focus on those needs.  There should be clear evidence that needs are being met.

The cycle we see too often in our divisions, of a chaotic and disastrous end to life bounced from service to service must cease.  We find it difficult to believe that this can be achieved in the face of an increasing elderly population while we put money in reserves “for a rainy day”.  The problems experienced with care homes within the County’s contract are inexcusable.

The County must watch its strategy closely to be sure that the vulnerable are not being pushed out of the support system.  Cost reductions purely from lower wage rates or working hours are not acceptable.  They just move the budget problem to the benefit bill.

Public Health  Mental health services are clearly inadequate but at national level Liberal Democrats are taking action and we welcome the moves by Norman Lamb to establish maximum times for referral.  We believe that the County must play its role in this area.

CYP– Children’s services with emphasis on education  These concern us concerns us most.  The performance of many of our schools, particularly those in deprived areas lags the national picture.  While there are improvements, in key stage 2 reading, writing and maths Suffolk has improved moving us up the Local Authority rankings from 145 to 141 this is not good enough.  The Tory response is to cut the overall CYP budget by £6.6 million.

We have the “Raising the Bar” initiative but find it difficult to detect any real enthusiasm for it in Suffolk Schools or a belief that it is an effective approach.  A school governors commented recently “If the Local Authority continues to focus on such non-events as the distribution of meaningless and infantile rosettes, I think we can be confident that the Bar will remain firmly on, or near, the floor.”  Currently we appear to have a learning inspection service and we need a learning improvement service.

Leadership is essential but the enthusiastic effective leadership teams in our good and outstanding schools just don’t have the budget to cover supply replacements while they help others to make the leap in teaching and learning required.  They can’t neglect their own schools and let them fall back.

We still believe that the County should fund supply cover and in addition establish a small number of “excellence” teams who could work with the leadership teams in failing schools to remove pressure, determine what needs to be done and put it in place.   Excellence teams would need people with proven track records who enjoy a challenge and would need to ensure that necessary management decisions are taken.

The cost of such teams would not be trivial but would be small compared to the County budget and must be less than the continuing cost of failure.

The Conservative administration have been in control of our children’s education now for ten years and in many areas a whole generation of Suffolk young people have been through a failing education system.  This system must be improved and “Raising the Bar” is not working.

And, while the government has made it mandatory for young people to remain in education or training until 17 it seems deeply inappropriate to have no fundng mechanism in place to support the poorest young people of the county for this last year of what is now statutory education, as exists up until 16. Our view is  that you need to speculate in order to accumulate – that savings should be measured longterm. A small investment from our our rainy day millions now could reap dividends in years to come

The Suffolk County Council Lib Dem Group

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