£24m schools initiative welcomed

8th October 2018

ENGLAND’S largest regional schools network has today welcomed the Government’s decision to invest £24m to improve school outcomes in the North East.
SCHOOLS NorthEast, a network for 1,250 schools across the region, said the investment had the potential to be transformative, as long as it focuses on the areas of greatest need.

The programme, called Opportunity North East, is the first time the Department for Education has implemented a regionwide initiative of this kind, having previously announced a £72m improvement initiative to create 12 Opportunity Areas.

SCHOOLS NorthEast was the first and the most prominent voice in a campaign to attract an Opportunity Area to the region. Today’s announcement essentially creates a ‘Super Opportunity Area’ for the first time and gives the North East the chance to take a lead in delivering change at a regional scale.

Mike Parker, director of SCHOOLS NorthEast, said: “This is a great first step to changing outcomes for children across the North East of England. Developing this as a regionwide initiative is an intelligent move and the Department for Education needs to use all the regional structures to ensure it is a success.”

The charity – created and governed by serving North East Head Teachers – has outlined three steps that will ensure the initiative is a resounding success:

1. Truly understanding the problem – The issue in the North East, as with other areas that have deep deprivation and predominantly white, disadvantaged communities, runs deeper than what happens in school. Professor Stephen Gorard of Durham University, who studied evidence on 1.8 million pupilsfound that “The most important factor that determines school test and exam results is not the quality of teaching or leadership but who they teach, the proportion of pupils who are disadvantaged through poverty, family circumstances or special educational needs and most crucially the length of time they have been disadvantaged.”

This backs research by Mike Treadaway, associate research fellow at FFT Education Datalab, which highlights the North East has significantly higher numbers of children whose educational outcomes are disproportionately affected by poverty.

2. Improving school standards –the initiative needs to be highly focused on the drivers that really make the difference in school – high quality leadership; strong, motivated teachers who are supported by evidence-based CPD.

3. Environments around schools –schools can only achieve so much on their own. The environment around schools is essential in freeing up schools to focus on the thing they are best at – teaching children. Statutory services have to be more responsive and engaged with schools and parental engagement at all levels is crucial in supporting children to succeed at schools. We must ensure that schools get as much support as possible from the wider community to make the most of this unique opportunity. 

Mike Parker continued: “We have to stop expecting schools to be the parent, the police, the nurse or the social worker and to plug the gaps that our public services are providing. Free them up to teach and they will be all the stronger for it.

“This is an opportunity for our entire region to equip our children with the bright and fulfilling future that they deserve.”