Mike Parker, SCHOOLS NorthEast Director, said:
“We welcome the prominence the document gives to issues that we have long discussed in the North East, however the success of the report will be in the action the Government takes to address the main recommendations that the report outlines.
“In particular, we back the report’s conclusion that the Government has to act urgently to bring its flagship Opportunity Areas support to the North East. SCHOOLS NorthEast has repeatedly challenged the decision not to include this region in a £72m initiative that is also attracting the lion’s share of other school improvement funding and projects to drive up attainment in disadvantaged areas.”
On specific aspects of the report, Mr Parker commented:
Early years education – “The start children get in life defines their future. The impact of nurturing young minds through play and a word-rich environment is phenomenal in their formative years before school. If children don’t get that start in life, it is akin to building the Channel Tunnel when one side is an inch out at the start. Why should we be surprised when you are a mile apart at the end? This report highlights that gap exists in Early Years and the great divide by the time children leave school. Addressing early years education in the north is an essential long-term priority.”
Pupil premium - “The report is right to highlight the need for a greater focus on long-term poverty. Pupil Premium currently treats disadvantaged pupils in Middlesbrough identically to those in affluent areas of London like Kensington and Chelsea. But, the characteristics of these two groups couldn’t be more different.
“Areas of the North East suffer from endemic, long-term disadvantage that are under-recognised by the current system. The report’s recommendations of weighting Pupil Premium to account for the length of time pupils spend on free school meals reflect the evidence that greater support is needed for children in long-term poverty.
Careers engagement - “The North East is a trailblazer for the Career Benchmarks which have formed the backbone of the new national schools careers strategy.
“The Government intends to launch 20 new ‘careers hubs’ across the country as part of this strategy. With our experience in piloting the Career Benchmarks, nowhere else is better placed than the North East to make a success of the hubs- we call on the Government to locate at least one hub in our region.
“The impact of high quality careers education is vital and there is considerably more that schools can be doing to educate and excite pupils about the world of work. But, they cannot do this in isolation. The challenge to business is to invest more time and creativity into developing high quality, meaningful and extremely engaging ways to interact with pupils. There is also significant demand for leadership engagement in the governance of schools, particularly those in the most deprived areas.”
Northern Centre of Excellence - “We need a particular focus on the group of children that are struggling the most – white working class, particularly boys. While we are good at identifying the problem, we aren’t good at identifying the solutions. This is the majority of pupils in our region so the proposal of a Northern Centre of Excellence, focused on deprivation and driving teacher CPD, would make the North a leader in innovative ways to drive up educational standards for this group.”