Pupil demographics, policy and poverty: Roundtable conversations with Kim McGuinness

10th May 2024

It’s no secret that we’re passionate about getting to grips with what’s really going on in all 1,150 schools across our region. So, we regularly hold roundtable discussions to hear firsthand about the challenges our school leaders are facing.


These conversations offer a great opportunity to identify gaps in support, and make sure that decision makers truly understand which areas require urgent attention in North East education.


Our roundtable sessions regularly feature esteemed guest speakers too, ranging from Members of Parliament to influential figures within relevant sectors such as HMCI of Ofsted.


Most recently, on 16 April, we were joined by Kim McGuinness, the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, now the new Mayor of the newly formed North East Mayoral Combined Authority. To keep you in the loop, here’s a brief overview of what was discussed.


Education policy


Unsurprisingly, school leaders emphasised the need to reshape the public perception of education, especially in regions like ours, to tackle the ongoing recruitment and retention challenges.


They stressed the importance of highlighting the positive aspects of teaching and providing more support for educators. As a result, this would help ensure that North East schools, as well as schools across the country, are a place for real educational opportunities as well as a place for teachers to work…and to truly enjoy doing so!


Early Years

School leaders expressed support for the Sure Start programme, which we recently explored in more detail here.


While Sure Start was acknowledged as not being perfect (what is perfect?), school leaders said it had an impact in a range of areas, and there were a lot of beneficial lessons that could be carried forward should the government, or future governments, decide to revive a Sure Start-style programme.


As we’ve continued to highlight, this is especially important for opening up opportunities for children and young people, especially vulnerable children and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.


Child poverty


In the North East, child poverty has been hitting hard, especially since the pandemic. But here’s the kicker: It’s not getting enough attention in political debates, and it’s unclear if any party has a solid plan to tackle it head-on. And that’s exactly what we need!


Finding a solution calls for a team effort across different sectors, and not just relying on schools to solve all problems. Those working in education say childcare and supporting women in the workforce are key players in fighting child poverty. And it should go without saying that any strategy to tackle must be in it for the long haul.


Pupil demographics


The North East is bracing for a big drop in student numbers, especially in primary schools. This means we could see some schools shutting down, others teaming up, and unfortunately, potential redundancies.


Budgets will take a hit too, especially for smaller and rural schools that might find it tough to attract staff and access support.


Skills and apprenticeships agenda


School leaders are feeling boxed in by education policies and accountability systems, especially when it comes to offering vocational pathways. They say these options have taken a hit lately and they’re eager to revive them alongside academic routes.


The problem? Policies like EBacc and Progress 8 push schools to focus narrowly on a few subjects that fail to meet the needs of all students. So, this leaves many young people with reduced opportunities when they leave school.


There’s a call for more teamwork between schools, colleges, and businesses to showcase non-academic paths and meet local needs better. We should be focussing on making sure education matches what students and local industries actually require.


Join us at our next roundtables


The Kim McGuinness roundtable was just one of a few that we’ve got planned across the summer term. If you’re a Partner School and would like to have a more active role in these conversations, we strongly encourage you to book your place!


Coming up, we have roundtables with:

Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor of University of Sunderland (16 May)
Russell Hobby, CEO of Teach First (06 June)
Rachel de Souza, The Children’s Commissioner (25 June)

As the election draws closer, our roundtables this academic year have had a more strategic focus, looking in detail at individual policy issues and showcasing the solutions and good practice in our region. This allows North East schools to continue to ‘lead not plead’.


Discussions at these roundtables inform Schools North East’s policy lobbying work, and help us refresh our recommendations in our 2019 Manifesto for North East Education.


Join the conversations around key challenges within the education sector. Let’s tackle these issues together and continue driving the long-lasting change we know our region needs and deserves.