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Suffolk schooling issues to be scrutinised by new task forces

PUBLISHED: 16:26 24 May 2019

Mark Bee said task and finish groups could provide a good way of scrutinising education issues effectively in Suffolk. Picture: DAVID GARRAD

Mark Bee said task and finish groups could provide a good way of scrutinising education issues effectively in Suffolk. Picture: DAVID GARRAD

Key education issues in Suffolk such as special educational needs, catchment areas and home schooling will be put under greater scrutiny thanks to a series of new task forces.

Jack Abbott has agreed with plans to form task groups for education issues in Suffolk.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNJack Abbott has agreed with plans to form task groups for education issues in Suffolk. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Suffolk County Council previously had a scrutiny committee to question decisions made on key education issues.

But the group was dissolved in 2017 - causing concern among some councillors, who have been worried that decisions on issues such as home-to-school transport have not been assessed thoroughly enough since.

A motion was therefore put forward by the Labour group at Thursday's Suffolk County Council meeting calling for a new dedicated education scrutiny committee.

However a deal was instead struck to set up a series of cross-party task groups for specific education issues, which will also be able to call upon experts and those in the industry.

Conservative councillor Mark Bee, head of the scrutiny committee who set up the standalone education scrutiny committee during his time as leader before it was dissolved in 2017, said: "I was very happy to see [task and finish groups] as a way forward.

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"I think it's a shame we lost the education scrutiny committee in the way we did but there are other opportunities for this council to look at important subjects.

"There have been some great examples of task and finish group work that this council has already done.

"I think we should look at the use of task and finish groups much more. They have the ability to really drill down into a subject, and what comes back comes back to the scrutiny committee."

The council's main scrutiny committee can also request to look at any piece of council business it would like, which will still be possible regardless of having task and finish groups.

However Penny Otton, Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group leader, raised concerns that the task and finish group meetings would not open to the public and press.

Suffolk Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott said: "I believe we are on the same page and recognise the need for a transparent, robust scrutiny proposal. I hope this offer for proper scrutiny of education is upheld."

Mr Abbott added that if the task and finish groups did not end up providing the adequate analysis of education issues, the group would return with a fresh call for a dedicated committee.

It is not yet clear when these groups will begin or what the first areas of education will be looked at, but the groups can run for as long as needed before returning with their findings.

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