South Cambridge: How are we going to support our secondary schools?


We can’t leave Coleridge and Netherhall schools to struggle alone. All of us – even those of us that do not have children there need to ask what our wider community can do to help them. The schools management and admin staff need to ensure that they too are open to offers of support – something that with Netherhall in particular has been lacking.

The latest Ofsted inspection reports for Coleridge (see here) and Netherhall (see here) indicate that both schools have been ranked: “Requires improvement”. Historically Coleridge has been struggling for years – leading it to become the first school in the county to be put into special measures back in 2003 according to the Cambridge News. The Cambridge News article mentions Chris Meddle, the then head teacher – who’s since left. He used to be my geography teacher a decade prior to that. Another local struggling school, Newmarket College recently lost its principal – Dr Bob Cadwalladr, who was my former biology teacher who I recall as being one of the best science teachers I was ever taught by.

With Cambridge University sitting next door, and with the talent that is flowing into the city, our schools should not be being left to struggle alone

This is one of the reasons why I am standing as/with Puffles in the 2014 local government elections in Cambridge – not to get elected but to raise the issues and change the cultures of the influential institutions and communities in Cambridge.

At the end of 2013 (four months before this blogpost), I joined the Cambridge Area Partnership for their first event – see my write-up here.

“Hang on a minute, I’ve just re-read that blogpost and there is one ***glaring*** omission that should be called out”

What’s that?

“It says in the bit towards the end: ‘What does success look like?’ and you have all the groups of people except the most important: The children and students.”

Ouch. Big ouch. That’s a good call. All the more so because three months prior to that blogpost, I wrote one about what I learnt from the children at my local primary school when they were surveyed about the place I am a governor at – see my blogpost here.

“How are Coleridge and Netherhall currently doing?

There are certainly challenges, but Coleridge’s senior management, particularly Mrs Bev Jones (who I’ve met on a couple of occasions) not only seems to have a plan, but is taking up offers of support. The result? Their Year 9 students unlocked democracy in Cambridge (see here) which is why I’m encouraging students of all ages across Cambridge that live or study here (we have lots that commute in from outside the city daily) to take up the digital democracy challenge (see here) – even if they are under 18.

Netherhall’s management and administration on the other hand has been a much tougher nut to crack.

“How so?”

I was at Cambridge’s South Area Committee of local councillors (see here) recently, and asked them for an update on the letter they sent to Netherhall inviting staff and students to get involved in local democracy. At the previous meeting, they announced that only an acknowledgement of receipt had been returned (see item under matters arising here). They announced that still nothing further had come back from Netherhall – and ditto from Long Road and Hills Road sixth form colleges.

“That’s an outrage! This is contempt for local democracy from local institutions who are denying the right of their students to have their voices heard by their elected representatives!”

Actually, it’s more likely that someone’s forgotten to follow up the letters that came through with any actions – which often happens in large institutions. The problem is that neither side really has an incentive to follow these things up. Their systems and processes are all looking in a different direction. It’s only when someone a) starts to kick up a fuss, and b) refuses to go away that things start changing.

“So…what are you going to do about it?”

Kick up a fuss – and make it an issue in the election campaign. Because now that Puffles is on the ballot paper for Coleridge (see here), issues we raise as part of the campaign can get a slightly higher profile than they might otherwise get.

There are current and former students of Netherhall, Hills Road and Long Road sixth form colleges living in Coleridge Ward. Therefore, as a candidate standing for election in this ward, on behalf of the residents and young people, I want to know the following from the heads of each of those institutions:

  1. If you are going to apologise to the chair of the South Area Committee Cllr Mark Ashton and his committee for not providing a substantive response to his letter within a reasonable time, and explain to Cllr Ashton the reasons for this
  2. Set out in a letter to the Committee Chair, and published on the websites of your institutions what steps you will take to respond to the committee’s invitation
  3. What further steps you will take to ensure that students are encouraged to take part in local democracy in Cambridge (whilst ensuring appropriate safeguards, in particular with social and digital media) – publishing the steps on your websites
  4. What systems and processes you will put in place to ensure much better communication between your institutions and Cambridge City Council and its elected councillors – publishing these on your websites

“Isn’t this all a bit grandstanding on the parochial parish council?”

Oh completely – in one sense. This is totally ‘busybody with too much time on his hands’ stuff. On the other hand, who else is going to do this? Because local democracy is broken. In Coleridge in 2013 we had a miserable 30% turnout at the county council elections. The primary aim of Puffles being on the ballot paper is to raise this. So my pre-emptive response to anyone criticising me and Puffles on this is to say:

“OK. You do it – or do something better instead!”

We know that trust in politics and in politicians is at a very low level – Ipsos Mori has a wealth of data on this. (See here).  Now, it’s possible to bypass the institutions to some extent. Search for community groups in Cambridge on Meetup.Com and you’ll find hundreds of people in Cambridge are doing just that – they are not even on the radar of public institutions in Cambridge. (Or they weren’t until Puffles told them).

A message to the parents, teachers and the youth workers?

Work with your children and students and ask them about how they think things can be improved. I can go after the systems and processes, because that’s what my background is in. But you are the ones who live and/or work with children. Teachers and youth workers, you are good at this. Can you apply your skills to help educate young people and unleash their ideas on local democracy? That also means on your part learning about local democracy.

And from the councils?

To help teachers in this, can Cambridge City and Cambridgeshire County Councils make short digital videos to help introduce what they do?

Something a bit like…

…only a damn sight more engaging and inspiring – and without the big ‘preview’ sign plonked across it!

Food for thought?





2 thoughts on “South Cambridge: How are we going to support our secondary schools?

  1. If you want to be serious then have a serious message. You want to understand why these schools are “requiring improvement?”. Look first at the how little funding we get. Then start looking at how mixed up Ofsted is. Oh and Michael Gove too why you are there. By all means spend a day in a school then get back to me.

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