Day 46 – Sharnbrook & Suffolk


Last Thursday at the Sharnbrook Consultation meeting, Brian Glover, the Chief Education Officer and Chris Hilliard’s assistant, said that data from Suffolk when both school systems existed side-by-side showed that two-tier produces better results than three-tier.

This is shameful.

The data in the Suffolk County Council report have been criticised by three sets of researchers and this was pointed out to Brian (eventually) by SMS after waiting patiently and stretching our legs (these meetings do go on a bit when officers insist on repeating themselves slowly as if talking to the retarded).

Jenny Symonds (Cambridge University) showed that, by reanalysing the Suffolk data using CVA (contextually value-added – basically how much pupils improve but also taking into account how good they are when they start), three-tier can actually be shown to produce better results than two-tier.

Professor Richard Webber (University College London) showed that school performance is highly linked to the socioeconomic status of the pupils it takes, and that if a reanalysis of Suffolk is undertaken, then no significant difference between the systems is shown, and furthermore the best school in Suffolk was demonstrated to be three-tier.

Professor Peter Tymms (Durham University) who was one of the Suffolk Report’s own referees (!) showed clearly that results are driven by pupils themselves first (their socio-economic and home background) and the quality of teaching second; the effect of local authorities was very weak – in fact his research could be used to support getting rid of educational bureaucrats and giving more money to schools !

Brian’s response was – you can show anything with statistics.

Yes Brian, but we don’t want to change a whole school system. The onus is on you to provide the evidence for change. You haven’t.

See you at Mark Rutherford tonight – there are some very worried parents coming to see you.



7 Responses to Day 46 – Sharnbrook & Suffolk

  1. Jonathan Parsons says:

    Even Professor Kate Jacques, pro-vice chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire and a long-time advocate of the two tier system admits: “Parents like middle schools. It means their children can be in a primary school environment for longer. And pupils like it because while they are at middle school the pressure isn’t on.”
    So what is driving the two tier campaign? Poor exam results, particularly in Bedford and Kempston.
    Bedfordshire has been under-performing in GCSEs for years and the present three tier system is being used to explain why Bedfordshire is below the national average.
    County’s view is that it is not a problem with the schools, but a problem with the three-tier system. Not that all schools performing below the national average are three tier – far from it. But that fact seems to have escaped their notice.
    If the change takes place and schools in Bedford and Kempston continue to perform badly the mere fact of the change itself can be used to defend the local educational establishment from blame in two ways.
    Firstly, the change shows that “something is being done.”
    Secondly, the process of change is known to damage the education of the children caught up in it, so it will be “too soon to make an informed judgment.”
    There is also a false impression that Bedfordshire and the Isle of Wight are the only education authorities to still run this three tier system – as reported by Luton Today on 1st May – and are behind the times in doing so.
    Currently England has 315 middle schools including 32 in Harrow; 23 in Worcestershire; 19 in West Sussex; 14 in Staffordshire and 14 in Dorset. None of these face closure.
    And middle schools are increasingly common in the US, rising from just over 2,000 middle schools in 1970-71 to just over 14,000 in 2005-06 .
    If the structure is winning hearts and minds in the US, why are we rushing headlong in the other direction? Blaming the system doesn’t hold water. As a result of the Newcastle Commission we now know more about the relative importance of LEAs in changing the attainment level of pupils.
    Professor Peter Tymms of the Curriculum Evaluation and Management Centre, Durham University says, “The quantitative analyses concluded that by far the most important part of the educational system is the teachers and that the most important thing an LEA can do is to enhance the quality of teaching in the classroom.”
    County cannot escape responsibility. The children are failing only after the County has failed to support adequately the schools and the teachers. The £340 million earmarked to make the change in Bedford and Kempston will go a long way to financing a more imaginative initiative than moving the deck chairs on the Titanic. Isn’t it time to stop, think again and find a better way to spend £340 million in support of education in Bedford

  2. Fred Bagnall says:

    Mickey and Minnie were over yesterday afternoon and, forsaking the village pub after last time, we instead sat out in the sunshine and tried to be constructive about this schools business. Mickey had heard mention of BSF on the radio and found a piece on the BBC website (htttp:// In that helpful BBC way this had linked into other websites about BSF and PfS.

    We hadn’t realised that the whole country would get money to (re)build their secondary schools in due course and that this wasn’t some competitive process. Of course a new government could decide not to bother with the half of the country not yet done. We were contemplating whether we were at the PID (Project Initiation Document) stage or had got to SfC (Strategy for Change). Either way the BSF process did not yet require the hard budget numbers some crave (nice spreadsheets and consultants for them later).

    Then we digressed. Minnie’s friend Daisy had told her about the Isle of Sheppey where they had been told to do a more thorough consultation on changing from 3 to 2-tier. Of 536 written responses 444 (83%) had favoured moving to 2-tier. The controversy was whether to have one Academy sited at the upper school and a middle school or to turn some of the other middle schools into secondary schools. An Academy opens this September that will have five schools for years 7 to 13 within it each of about 500 students. They will mainly operate separately, but share some specialist facilities. Quite interesting this schools within schools.

    This reminded us that John Bunyan is to become an Academy, Sharnbrook is part of the North Bedfordshire Schools Trust, Mark Rutherford is to top the North East Bedford Learning Trust, Hastingsbury is in a Trust and probably more besides. How does this all fit in with BSF and PfS? Everything would surely be made clear somewhere on the Borough website, just we missed it before.

    We found they had added FAQs, including clarifying their statistics a little and found we couldn’t worry about post-16 results if we wanted to. Going to Education and Learning then Schools and Colleges then Building Schools for the Future pointed us at some old County Council documents including one from March 2008 all about using BSF to go 2-tier in Bedford and Kempston that included a draft Strategy for Change document. This said “Stakeholders including headteachers and officers have been working together throughout 2007 to set ambitious objectives for the BSF programme”. So those in education have known about this for ages but we’ve heard nothing from school governing bodies even now, just headteachers.

    Too much smoke, too many mirrors and the bottle of red wine may not have helped either.

    Best wishes to all trying to get to the bottom of all this,

    Frederica B.

    • Jonathan Parsons says:

      dear fred

      seems you are missing the point of the whole debate that is there is no debate, we are hearing one side or the other, it seems never the twane shall they meet, it would be interesting that the invisable mayor in this has yet to offer a joint open meeting with both sides able to put both the pros and cons of eather system, my main concern is my two children that seem lightly to have there education mucked up because of a few short sited members of local goverment who seem to think changeing a good system to make money is the answer to everything, and as to red wine how about the rose coloued glasses they are trying to have the public wear, because the local govement will not get to build GOOD schools in three years, eight to ten probaly bad ones possably in five or so
      heck our local officials probaly will not have finised a rowing lake by the 2011 and thats just a whole in the ground, or is this down to money too we await to see, i will be interested to see also how thowing money a some schools will sort the problems perhaps paying 120 thousand pounds to a head may bring results but an acadamy is just an addon to a secondry school so we will have primary, secondry and acadamy funny sounds like thee tier but i am only a voter and also having read about this BSF it seems that if we retain middle schools as they are classed as secondry school so the money instead of going to just 6 upper schools would benifit the whole system, but i can see why this would not be good afterall 350 million to 6 sounds better than in to 20 (ps = 58.3 million each instead of uppers just getting 17.5 million each)also you would still have 30 million to develope the lower schools smoke and mirrors anyone,providing the govement still has the money well i must dash now would offer you to a drink at my local but was demolised 2 years ago and we are awating some redvelopmet but give it a few years may be ready or not !!

      regards jonathan p

      • Fred Bagnall says:

        I do not miss the point. It may be found that the consultation is poor but at best that would just send us through another consultation loop and that leaves the schools and our children therein in limbo. The Major and his rainbow Executive or the full council, whichever as I understand it the law says the decision lies with, will make a decision. How much information they wish for and how they assess the quality of that information is something I would have to defer to councillor Headley and others on. They presumably might request better quality information, as Councillor Sawyer seemed to, as previously mentioned, at Biddenham. Clearly documented arguments with well-sourced and referenced data would not go amiss. If the public could access this, some might wish to refute the interpretation of the information presented by officers. Ideally, for the politicians, a decision might lie with the mayor, if Mr Branston is ‘up for it’, so a wrong decision is his fault and a good decision is their quality guidance. No decision and no funding for renewing school infrastructures and long-term intentions remaining uncertain would not, I offer, be helpful.

  3. savemiddleschools says:

    Ah well…Mickey and Minnie seems to summarise the whole non-consultation process…

    …we always value your comments Madame Bagnall !

  4. Leodis says:

    Whilst you were ruminating all of this Mr Mayor/Editor/Officer – sorry Bagnall, did it occur to you to ask any of the Disney family WHICH Heads and schools have been involved with their Strategy for Change. I can almost guarantee that is has not been with the middle school headteachers. So sadly once again the ‘consultation’ is proven to be lacking.

  5. jonathan parsons says:

    i have to say rainbow council will lead to i hope a fair and good outcome wich ever is proven to be the final outcome but the exeutive seems less rainbow more magnolia, all i ask is the truth about the time scales, and a garentee our childerns education will not suffer at all, and in truth this seem unlightly, but as every child matters i will simply send my children to a private school and make the council pick up the tab, as every child matters unless not financially preferable

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