"Raising the Bar" needs to look at the difficult real issues on the ground to succeed

Raising the Bar website

Suffolk County Council continue to be frustrated by the exam table performance of Suffolk at 11 and 16. Leader of the County Council Mark Bee says “Suffolk is stuck”. So the County Council have launched an inquiry called “raising the bar” with a Commission chaired by Matthew taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce’s (RSA).

The commission now has its own website and yesterday launched a “call for ideas” with Matthew Taylor quoted as saying:
The aim of the Raising the Bar programme is to make sure young people in Suffolk have the best possible chance to succeed at school, and get great jobs, in a fast-changing world.
At the moment, Suffolk's young people are falling behind, with lower exam results than most of the rest of the country. Employers often tell us that Suffolk's young people are leaving school without the skills they need. We want to make new things happen quickly.
People in Suffolk are already excited about this work and are developing new ideas to transform learning in Suffolk. But we need more ideas and this is an important opportunity for people to share their views.
This kind thing always has the danger of looking like a gimmick, being seen to do something rather than really do something but Matthew Taylor is certainly a well respected figure who lends some credibility to the commission.

Indeed the aims of the inquiry, or “themes” as they are called are things that everyone would I think want to support:
1. Creating a truly excellent, and constantly improving, school system
2. Schools and employers working together to ensure children can progress in work and in life
3. Creating a culture of learning and high expectations across Suffolk
So I think that at the very least "raising the bar" needs to be given a chance despite its rather corny name.

But if it is to really succeed in tacking these issues in Suffolk I think there are some rather difficult real world issues that need to be grappled with. I give a few examples below:
  • Much of Suffolk is rural and the needs of rural Suffolk are distinct from the more urban parts of Ipswich and Lowestoft. A “one size fits all” solution is not going to work
  • Suffolk actually has many high achieving schools. These aren’t any worse because of a County average and the tendency to make sweeping statements like “Suffolk is stuck” does not really help
  • The County Council has already proposed SOR move to two tier as something that should improve performance but this is unfinished and has caused a great deal of uncertainty and difficulty in the affected areas
  • The impact of free schools and academies needs to be honestly assessed rather than being ignored for political reasons
  • Funding needs to be addressed. Suffolk is also low in the league table for funding and I cannot see this helps trying to raise attainment 
  • Issues such as transport are vital particularly in the rural parts of Suffolk
  • Suffolk County Council has not always provided strong strategic leadership over the last few years. Schools feel somewhat abandoned knowing the County cannot provide the support it used to but not knowing what the County want them to do. Neighbouring Norfolk has been more clear on strategy
These are just a few examples. I intend to respond myself to the call for ideas with some suggestions of my own that I hope will be helpful and I would encourage others to do so also. The consultation closes on 2nd November and you can reply online at the Raising the Bar website.
Suffolk County Council 2929871710735928585

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