One of the problems for a parish like ours which straddles a county boundary is that sometimes one has to raise issues that don't affect half the parishioners. This is the case this month, because I want to share some thoughts about the Bedfordshire Education Debate. The possibilities being looked at are to retain the existing three-tier structure, to change to a two-tier structure with transfer to secondary school at 11, or to have a mixture of both systems within the county. Other options concern Sixth Form Colleges or full age-range (4-19) schools.
Pupil attainment at GCSE level is 3% below the national average in Bedfordshire, having been above national average at Key Stage 1, and it has been suggested that the structure of education is a significant factor in this. Other reasons could be under-resourcing of Middle and Upper Schools, support for schools facing difficulties, and the general efficiency of the LEA.
There are strong educational arguments for the Middle School system - and well-tested arguments in favour of the 2-tier system. These are completely separate from the Comprehensive versus Selective debate. One of the major arguments against the three-tier system is that it does not fit well with the national testing pattern for Key Stages 2 and 3, but would it not be easier to adjust that system than rebuild all our Schools? If there is pressure to create a single national structure for education, let our politicians come clean about it.
Think of the cost of any change. Does access to funding under a special Government programme justify a radical upheaval in something so important as our children's education? You can bet the Government won't fund it all, so more of the money which should be spent on our children will go on buildings and administration. And would this be a wise use of tax-payers' money? If additional funding were to be made available, would it not be best spent by focussing on GCSE achievement rather than re-organizing the whole school structure?
A very important issue for us is the future of village schools like ours. The school plays a major role in building a community, and is an important focus of village-life. A first-rate school like ours gives our children an excellent start in life. If changes are proposed, we will require to be satisfied that they bring further advantages to our children.
Few of our Lower Schools are large enough to accommodate pupils from 5-11. Some will have to be expanded at considerable cost, while others, presumably, will be reduced to First (or Infants) Schools, which would mean a three-tier structure with transfers at 7 and 11 for some children, which seems a retrograde step.
Is there that much wrong with the present structure? Do we not need more imaginative ways of supporting and improving existing schools, rather than an expensive re-structuring with little or no extra help for teachers and pupils? There needs to be much more open consultation, and much more discussion of the issues before any decisions are taken. What is at stake is the future of our children and the future of education within our villages. That must be a matter of concern for our whole community, so, please, find out about the issues and make use of every means available to make your views known to the County Council's consultation group. MALCOLM
- February 2006
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About the Vicar's Letter
The Vicar's Letter has been appearing in the villages Focus magazine since August 2002.
The Rev. Peter Graham also used to publish The Vicar's Letter in the parish magazine of 1964. Please see the Vicar's Letter area for these.