Education Secretary to be asked to back North East schools fund

An ambitious plan to turn around under performing schools is being backed by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and the Education Secretary

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire Education Secretary Michael Gove
Education Secretary Michael Gove

Nick Clegg and Michael Gove will have to have their say on a plan for a North East school fund.

Planners in the region are submitting an ambitious plan for jobs and growth over the next decade, at the request of the Government.

And high up on the list will be a hope of funding a North East Schools Challenge, aimed at turning around under performing schools across the country.

The plans have been backed by Labour peer and former minister Lord Adonis, and now the deputy prime minister and, hopefully, the education secretary are to be given their say.

Businesses and council leaders on a North East local enterprise partnership say they have promised to find at least £4.7m a year for six years to fund the new scheme aimed at telling schools and teachers that poverty is no longer an excuse for failing results.

A Whitehall committee set to go over the new strategic economic plan will be told that the Schools Challenge aims to “eliminate the inconsistency across the area in schools’ performance through a step change in the quality of learning available in our worst performing schools.”

Eventually the plan will be signed of by Mr Clegg, but before then several other Government departments will have their say

And now the former Treasury official putting together the £760m plan says the education scheme is so vital to the region the partnership will be pushing for the Secretary of State himself to back it.

Danny Lawson/PA Wire Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
 

Edward Twiddy, director at the partnership until the end of May, said: “The School Challenge is one of the biggest items on this strategy. We have said we will put in £4.7m a year to pay for the design of the challenge and you have to ask now why would the Department for Education not want top be part of that.”

Education Secretary Mr Gove has previously hit out at the standard of North East schools, saying the smell of defeatism was coming from parts of Durham and questioning why many schools were not securing good enough results. At the same time his department has turned down earlier pleas for a Challenge fund which would have been similar to an £80m London model.

When councils said they could not do it alone, the Government insisted there simply was not enough money to pay for such a model.

Mr Twiddy said: “The Challenge scheme could be transformational and we think it will have to be made at the highest level.

Civil servants and ministers will discuss it but we the target of negotiations is to take this one to the Secretary of State.

“The scheme is backed by the evidence, but the policy, it is not just an emotional argument that can be turned down.”

His argument will build on the case by former Education Minister Lord Adonis, who pushed for the challenge fund when conducting his review of the North East economy last year.

Lord Adonis has already said that Mr Gove could not both criticise the region and withhold funding.

The peer previously told The Journal: “London Challenge would not have happened without that funding. And we can’t expect councils to divert more funding into this at a time of cuts in budgets.

“It would require some element of Government funding, and I hope the Government will think again about providing this, because the message from London is that you can bring about transformational change with this challenge approach.

“It requires a central approach to bring about the sort of big change that is needed, and the resources that go with this. We have to establish a North East version of this – that is a must.”

Liberal Democrat education minister David Laws may provide some hope for the region.

He has already gone on the record with a claim that a repeat of the London model could solve serious concerns raised about Northumberland in particular, where Ofsted has investigated widespread teaching standards issues, though as yet no funding has been provided by the Government.

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