Half term update from Schools North East

26th October 2023

And just like that, the first half term of the 23/24 academic year is upon us, or has just passed us, depending on which part of the glorious North East you’re lucky enough to work in.


What a memorable (we’re being polite with that word) start to the academic year we’ve had. We could insert a concrete joke here, but we won’t…because it’s a bit of a grey area.


The RAAC problem is certainly one for the books. While it was right that schools were closed where structures weren’t safe, it was frustrating that it had taken until the week before the new term for this information to be communicated to schools.


The entire North East education system has been crying out for stability since 2020 (ha, and the rest), but what did we get instead? A dangerous concrete crisis and major disruption to the start of the new school year. Typical.


But hey, the start to the new term hasn’t been all bad. You know what they say: focus on the good and the good gets better.


  • Positive GCSE, A-Level, and KS2 results days
  • Triumphant Ofsted outcomes
  • A very successful Annual Summit 2023
  • Our incredible teachers working as hard as ever
  • Our work as the VOICE

We’ve been incredibly busy ourselves this September/October, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.


Being busy means  facilitating new projects and offering additional support across the community; connecting schools to each other and external organisations such as businesses, charities, and think tanks; providing and amplifying a strategic voice for our members to help them cope better with an ever-crumbling system; and promoting a wider understanding of the issues facing North East education.


For us, being busy means helping make the community a better place for everyone in it, and there’s no way we could ever complain about that.


We are the voice of North East schools; we put a strong regional accent on the education debate. As your Voice, we shout about the issues in North East schools and the impact of well-intentioned policies made by people a very long way from here.


It’s a very personal Voice that gives you the opportunity for your story to be heard by policymakers, politicians, and the media. This Voice challenges myths and promotes a positive narrative of North East schools, their staff and their students.


We Lead not Plead.


Our engagement this half term


Our engagement as your Voice has grown exponentially across the last two years alone. In 21/22, we gave 66 interviews and media briefings, and in 22/23, we doubled this.


So far this half term, we have already exceeded figures from 21/22! Yep, it really is true: focus on the good and the good gets better.


We’re inundated with requests from radio, print, and TV for the North East perspective on the A levels, O Levels, concrete, the disadvantaged gap, long-term deprivation’s impact on education, attendance, and so much more.


Just last week we had requests for comments from The Guardian, Schools Week, and the Northern Echo, following the release of our briefings on the shortage of spaces in SEND/AP settings, as well as the recruitment & retention crisis.


Make no mistake: The interest in our schools from the media is generated by Schools North East – not the other way around. 


Why does any of this matter?


But why is being the Voice so important?  Well, for two main reasons…


Firstly, because in all likelihood, there will be a General Election in this academic year.  Everyone involved in Education policy making needs to understand the real issues and their impact on our schools.


Despite what certain voices may have said, last year was a very tough year for everyone in education.  It was identical across all phases and was largely made up of pre-existing problems hugely exacerbated.  Not new, but accelerating and much worse.


  • Attendance
  • Behaviour
  • Mental health
  • Readiness for stage
  • Cost-of-living crisis
  • Recruitment & retention

Not to mention the collapse of services around schools, with staff desperately trying to deliver beyond their remit and expertise, and the ever more greatly stretched budgets.


And the second reason why being the Voice is so important is because yes, it was a tough, tough year, but there was also so much to celebrate about North East schools, their staff and their students. The negative narrative about our schools is the biggest myth of all, and dispelling this myth is the biggest motivation behind everything we do.


Let’s recap all the glorious things that happened – as a result of you and your hard work – this half term. We will never tire of celebrating our incredible results!


A level results – Despite the highest levels of disruption in the country over the last three years, 22 percent of students in our region received an A or A* grade. This is only one per cent below the pre-pandemic level. An incredible achievement under the circumstances.


GCSE results – 17.6 percent received a grade seven or above, which is more than what was achieved in 2019 and the third highest increase in the country.


The increases in both passing grades and top grades in comparison to 2019 is narrowing the gap between the North East and all other regions in England (bar London), despite our schools having been hit the hardest by covid and the cost-of-living crisis.


SATs results – The North East saw the second highest percentage of pupils reaching expected standard in reading, writing, and maths. The gap between top performing London and the North East actually narrowed, despite the disproportional impact of covid on our youngest students.


In addition to this, we shared 122 amazing case studies from our schools with the media.


There are so many myths to bust about North East schools and we’re more than happy to take on this responsibility. Who you gonna’ call?


Myth busting has been the focus and purpose of your Voice to Ministers, DfE, and the media.  We have no excuses to make for the region’s schools – far from it – and if you don’t believe us, just ask Ofsted! We all know that they’re never wrong!


The North East percentage of Good and Outstanding schools is second only to London, and we have the second lowest percentages of RI and inadequate schools. Remember that when your day is feeling a bit more stressful than usual.


Your Voice really can make a difference


If anyone doubts that your Voice can make a difference, we can prove them wrong.


Now, no one accepts the worthless trope that the North East is behind other areas because our “leaders and teachers are not as good as those elsewhere.”


In 2014 and again in 2020, Sir Michael Wilshaw slated our secondary schools as well as our school leaders, stating that their competence was the reason that the North East was behind the South in key performance measures. 


Fast forward to 2023 and all of the media coverage of the summer results was focussed entirely on the impact of long term disadvantage, the pandemic, and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis on our children, schools and results. 


Even Nick Gibb admitted in August (FINALLY! HURRAH!) that the issue in North East education is long-term deprivation and NOT the quality of our schools.


In fact, we can’t even recall the last time the media contacted us wanting to discuss why North East schools had lower quality leaders and staff.  It’s quite simply no longer part of the narrative, and that’s all down to the work of Schools North East and the incredible community you’ve helped us build.


Does this mean that North East schools are perfect? No, but the profoundly negative narrative that has surrounded them for so long is also profoundly wrong. And that’s worth a small smug smile.


The Voice, the Glue, the Bridge


This Voice is only possible because of School North East’s work as the GLUE that brings our schools together in a purposeful community. This work, as well as the countless events we hold throughout the year, ensure that we can hear and reflect our schools’ experiences.


It’s also only possible because Schools North East is the BRIDGE that helps connect our region’s schools with the outside world.


And lastly, our roles as the Voice, Glue, and Bridge are only possible because of the contribution and commitment of you and your colleagues across the region.


So we’ll end this article with a huge THANK YOU to each and every one of you for your contribution to a community of North East schools that LEAD NOT PLEAD  in so many different ways.


Here’s to a very successful first half term! If you’re getting ready to break up, we hope you find some comfort and rest in the upcoming week. If you’re getting ready to return, welcome back and keep smashing those goals!