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Proposed school changes, the town's market and the NHS featured in this week's mailbag.

WE WERE TOLD MIDDLE SCHOOLS WOULD REMAIN

I write in response to the news regarding the proposed closure of two schools on the western side of Bury St Edmunds.

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

I do hope that people answer the CEO of Unity Schools Partnership, Mr Coulson’s call for attendance at the consultation evenings in all three schools (Bury Free Press, January 14).

As town councillor for Minden ward, where Westley Middle is located, I wish to give the strongest support to parents who are concerned about the fact that pupils who had the opportunity, up to the age of 13, to walk a short distance to their school.

Looking at the community responses on social media I can see just how devastated local parents are feeling about this and the removal of their choices.

I should declare that my interest has another source. I recently retired from a 36-year career in the three-tier system and I do know what this offers pupils. For 26 years I worked at Horringer Court Middle School, the sister school to Westley, which has a very similar approach. By the end of Year 6:

n Pupils are able to independently prepare and cook a family meal with regard to nutrition and sustainability in one of multiple specially designed kitchen areas.

n They have been taught science through a curriculum delivered by specialist teachers and in a laboratory.

n They have experienced a PE curriculum that enables them to access full-sized football, rugby, cricket and netball pitches and tennis courts with teaching by PE specialists.

n They access timetabled lessons in dance and drama in a dedicated performance space and art in a dedicated art room; not to mention the use of a band saw and drills and grinders etc.

n They have experienced a curriculum that encourages skill levels far in advance of what is expected nationally at late primary school age.

This breadth and depth of curriculum is perhaps one of the reasons for the high performance of these schools in local league tables. It fosters a deeper understanding of mathematics and develops the confidence in expression which enables literacy skills to flourish.

In short, they have access to the kind of facilities that it would be hard to find outside of private education.

I can also vouch for the ability of these smaller scale schools to deliver the pastoral care and personal connection with pupils as they begin adolescent transitions. In these schools 12 and13-year-olds are not the new, younger cogs in an enormous wheel, they are the leaders who have responsibility to champion their buddies in the younger year groups. The consistently very good results at GCSE level at County Upper show that these pupils have been well prepared to take on the challenges of the final tier.

I was educated in the Midlands and in the two-tier system, it did not do me any harm, but I know that my child benefited from what was offered by three-tier and although there are only two middle schools left, this town should be proud that both of them are here! The people of Bury currently have a choice and I hope they turn out and stand up for that choice.

Mr Coulson says that pupil numbers are reducing, well we have a growing town and more places will be needed in the future. Horringer Court has always drawn from the villages, but also from people who have the means to pay for their children to be transported from as far away as Newmarket. It was the school for those were willing to shop around. The last two years these schools have not been able to show parents what they can offer, the public events and open days that are their mainstay of recruitment just did not happen. Local primary schools have seen themselves as being in competition for places and it is not reasonable to expect them to promote middle schools.

Unity Schools Partnership could, however, invest in advertising their schools. It is two years since they promised staff and parents that if they supported the takeover they would champion the schools and had ‘no intention’ of closing them. We were told that as part of Unity we could draw on greater investment opportunities; training opportunities, that used to be available through the LEA, would once again be easy to access. It was all going to be so exciting. I went to a meeting during that consultation and I asked Mr Coulson three times how they would deal with staff redeployment, if at some time in the far future, they decided to reorganise. Mr Coulson said he had no idea where I got that idea from and this simply was not even worth bringing up, because it was far, far from his thoughts. I suspect that all of them, every single teacher will be laid off, no employment guaranteed. A fine and dedicated team of teachers will be wiped away from our town. A few might be needed, but they will have to apply for the jobs, schools can refuse to have them and actually it is unlikely that middle or senior managers will be needed by the other schools in this town. I look forward to what Mr Coulson may have to say.

So as someone who has spent the greater part of her life as an educator, as a resident, parent and councillor of this town, I share my views with as many who care to receive and I hope, I really do hope, that this is not a done thing. That we can save our schools.

Donna Higgins, Bury St Edmunds Town Councillor (Minden ward)

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO OUR MARKET?

For over 40 years I have always enjoyed my trip to Bury St Edmunds’ market, and remember when it included the cattle market, happy days.

But even without the cattle market, market day was still a good visit, so many stalls selling everything you ever wanted, stallholders shouting their wares, everywhere a bustle, food stalls with queues, the tool man had everything you needed – I bought all my gardening needs there, belt and braces (literally).

But because of personal circumstances, I have not been able to visit for over a year, so really looked forward to my visit. I have a blue badge, but still had to pay £3 to park, oh well, so be it, but when I got to the market, it was half empty.

There were, of course, a few stalwarts, the watch man, the gun man etc, but there were only a handful of people and none of the stalls were busy. What has happened to our lovely market?

Will we ever get it back?

With car parking prices the highest they’ve ever been and only half the market on a bright sunny day, what is the future? Are there any plans to revive our beautiful, busy, buzzy, delightful happy thriving market?

Bernard Freeman, Great Barton

DID OUR MP KNOW ABOUT THE PARTIES?

I’m sure readers will agree with me that honesty is an important quality for everyone. As a child, I was told not to lie, and as a parent, I always taught my children the same thing.

Now we have a situation where the prime minister of the country has been accused of lying, not once, but multiple times.

So I’d like to invite the Bury St Edmunds MP, Jo Churchill, to make her position on truthfulness clear. Is it wrong to lie? Is it especially wrong for public figures to lie? Should there be consequences when lies are found out?

May I also ask Ms Churchill to say once and for all whether she attended any parties when the rest of us were in the lockdowns in 2020? It’s hard to believe that it was only the Prime Minister’s office which had ‘bring your own bottle’ parties. If it happened at the very top, the suspicion must be that it also happened in other departments, and Ms Churchill was a junior minister at the Department for Health.

Surely it’s possible to say whether or not illegal parties were being held?

And whether ministers knew about them or even attended.

And whether she personally was at any?

Some readers may notice that I was the runner up in the last parliamentary elections, standing for Labour. So let me make it clear, I’m not accusing Ms Churchill of lying. In fact, thinking back to the election in 2019, I felt she ran a clean campaign, and I said so in my speech conceding defeat. The Prime minister had to make an abject apology when he was found out. I’d like to spare our MP the shame and ridicule he has brought upon himself.

Closer to home, another local MP, Matt Hancock, had to resign his ministerial post when he was caught out breaking the rules. It really does seem these two powerful politicians thought the rules didn’t apply to them.

So I ask again, did she know about lockdown-busting parties? Did she attend any? And can she say, with hand on heart, that she and her staff followed all the lockdown rules as closely as people living here in Bury St Edmunds?

And will she condemn the lies told by the Prime Minister?

Cliff Waterman, Bury St Edmunds

PENSIONERS HAVE DONE COUNCIL’S WORK

Thanks should be given to the ‘pensioners’ of Great Barton who have cleared the Mill Road pavement.

I personally have been fighting to get it done for four/five years, as has our county councillor, Becky Hopfensperger, and parish council.

Local authority Highways refuse on the grounds: “Unfortunately our reactive criteria for footway encroachment requires the footway to be totally obstructed before we can order works. If the footway is passable (albeit in single file) we are currently unable to prioritise this reactively. Our criteria specifies that pedestrians are forced from the path on to the carriageway before we can order works – there is no set minimum width requirement beyond this.”

I take it young mothers with prams and children are expected to walk on the busy highway – where are our rates being spent?

How much is the path to the waste bub costing and how many people walk to the dump? This is a joke.

Mrs E Read, Great Barton

WE MUST PROTECT NHS TRAINING

I wish to thank all the NHS staff who have looked after me over past few months in my local surgery in Ixworth, West Suffolk Hospital and Papworth, in numerous clinics and departments. They have all demonstrated sensitivity, compassion, efficiency, expertise and a willingness, indeed a compulsion to make sure I understood what was happening to me and all the options. All of this was happening during a health and care crisis which has hit health staff heavily by the number of Covid patients, staff shortages, Covid vaccinations and little understanding or empathy from government, as a result some parts of the system are creaking.

The health and care services as well as public health have been seriously underfunded for a decade. Training of new staff was the first cut by the Coalition Government. Why? Because its impact would not show for some years, with the inevitable consequences of there now being vacancies for 100,000 medical staff; doctors, nurses, technical and scientific experts, therapists of many specialities, porters and administrative staff who between them keep our clinics, surgeries, hospitals, and pharmacies functioning. Even higher numbers are missing from social and residential care.

The government’s answer is all too often to tell us how much money they are putting into the service to employ more staff. Theresa May famously said, when asked by a nurse why pay was not being increased, ‘there is no money tree’. Well the government found one to pay its friends for PPE and we must presume that someone had been planting trees to grow the staff whose training would otherwise take a decade or more. This is not the first time that training has been reduced to save money in the NHS. Margaret Thatcher did the same and it took decades after she resigned for the Labour government of Tony Blair to start to put things right, especially doctors.

Having laboured for the past two years under Covid and its restrictions, extra workload and being demoralised by the death of so many patients, health staff now see the Government seeking to justify No. 10 parties which were at the time prohibited. Presumably the government advisors and other political staff needed to recharge their batteries due to a heavy workload. Meanwhile NHS staff were having problems recharging their fridges with food for their families.

Tweny years ago there was a proposal for a Health Service University, subsequently abandoned, which would be responsible for providing in-service training for all staff if they were capable of upgrading their knowledge and experience no matter how low their previous academic qualifications. The new pay and promotion structure ‘Agenda for Change’ introduced 15 years ago relied on in-service training for its successful operation. Either shortage of staff to cover or shortage of funding has largely weakened this option. The time taken to train existing staff to upgrade is far less than starting new totally new employees, though that needs doing as well.

Training of NHS staff must become an area protected from short term savings as the long term costs are higher, and we can all now see the dire consequences.

Roger Spiller, Ixworth

NURSING STAFF NEED YOUR SUPPORT

Your readers will be aware of the well-documented pressures currently being experienced in health services both locally and nationally.

Our members, providing frontline nursing care to patients under extremely challenging circumstances, are exhausted. They are aiming, as always, to provide the highest standards of safe and effective care at a time of high demand and staffing shortages.

It would be easy to blame the current staffing pressures on the Covid-19 pandemic – a combination of more patients needing Covid treatment and rising staff sickness levels due to illness and isolation. This is certainly where the government would like to pin the blame.

The reality is that the current problems have been a long time in the making. For more than a decade the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has been warning that the NHS and wider health and care system is so short of nursing staff that patients do not always receive the safe and high standard of care they expect.

Factors such as a loss of nurses from EU countries, changes to nursing student finance in 2016, a failure to award staff a fair pay rise and the continued lack of a coherent workforce plan that addresses how to retain experienced nurses as well as recruit new ones have all contributed to the extraordinary circumstances our members are now working under.

While we all hope the pressures piled on by Covid-19 will soon start to subside again, the underlying workforce shortages, declining morale and unsustainable pressures will remain.

In fact they are driving nursing staff to seriously consider leaving the job they love. It is now imperative that our political leaders act on the concerns raised by the RCN, our members and others working in health services.

Nursing staff don’t go into the profession to deliver care that they know is below the standard they want to provide and that patients and their families rightly expect, but they need the proper resources to deliver a high standard of care.

Please contact your MP and support us as we continue to promote the importance of safe staffing across the whole health and care system.

Natalie Brooks (Registered Nurse), Board chair, RCN Eastern