Education minister backs calls to raise aspirations in North East schools

Education minister David Laws has backed calls for a 'North East challenge' to drive up standards and aspirations in the region's schools

Education minister David Laws
Education minister David Laws

Education minister David Laws has backed calls for a 'North East challenge' to drive up standards and aspirations in the region's schools.

The idea, put forward in a report by former Labour cabinet minister Lord Adonis, copies a similar scheme which is credited with bringing dramatic improvements to London schools.

But he warned that local authorities that fail to improve could see control of education taken away.

He spoke out in the wake of a scathing report by watchdog Ofsted into Northumberland’s education system.

“It does worry me that some parts of the country, including the North East, have a lower proportion of good and outstanding schools,” Mr Laws said yesterday.

“We want all parents to be able to access good and outstanding schools. We certainly will take action where we hear back from Ofsted that a local authority is failing, and we have done in other parts of the country.

“We’ll make a judgement on whether an authority is capable of improving and whether they have a strong plan for improving and then give them more time or look at other solutions.”

Schools in Northumberland have seen an “unacceptable downward trend” according to inspectors.

Last week Ofsted’s regional director Nick Hudson said that the authority was failing to tackle declining standards and claimed an emergency review of schools did “not reflect well on the local authority’s capacity or influence to drive improvement.”

While refusing to back Education Secretary Michael Gove’s sweeping criticism of some of the region’s schools - which were accused of having a “smell of defeatism” about them - Mr Laws said he could understand that raising aspirations and results could be a difficult task.

“I won’t comment on all schools because some do have aspirations and passion,” Mr Laws said.

“But there are communities in economic decline and households where people have not gone on to higher education or higher skilled jobs, and teachers in those area have a problem raising aspirations.”

“We understand why it is difficult for schools because often young people are coming through their doors without support in their home environment,” he added.

“But London has shown that even if pupils come in with a lot of disadvantages, if the school is well led and resourced then you can do an awful lot about that. In London there has been a revolution over the past 10 to 15 years with these children doing just as well as those from a ‘normal’ background.”

A North East Schools Challenge would see every headteacher developing a strategy to either break into the top 25% of schools in Britain, or escape the bottom quartile.

Currently, just one in four of the region’s secondary schools are among the best nationally.

At the opposite end of the scale 28% of secondaries and 25% of primaries are among the worst.

London’s “challenge” saw some schools more than quadruple the number of pupils achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths over the course of 10 to 15 years.

However, that programme was supported with substantial funding.

Yet Local Enterprise Partnership board member Jeremy Middleton said he believed the money needed to fund such a scheme can be found from within local council budgets.

“We need a North East Schools Challenge as suggested by Lord Adonis,” he said. “And the money required is available through local authorities.”

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