Ministers urged to give help to North East schools

Labour peer Lord Beecham, a Shadow Justice Minister and former leader of Newcastle City Council, has urged Michael Gove to reconsider his stance on North East schools

Lord Jeremy Beecham
Lord Jeremy Beecham

A North East peer has called for a Government re-think after ministers refused to introduce a London-style £80m education scheme in the region.

Labour peer Lord Beecham, a Shadow Justice Minister and former leader of Newcastle City Council, has urged Michael Gove to reconsider his stance on North East schools.

Schools in the capital benefited from a Government-funded London Challenge scheme, in which head teachers and staff are trained up to ensure poverty is not used as an excuse for failing standards.

In the North East, both Oftsed and the Government have said schools need to stop blaming deprivation for educational standards which in many cases are below the national average.

A repeat of the London Challenge was one of the key recommendations of a region-wide economic report set up to change this record and create jobs. The model was a key recommendation of the Adonis report, set up to look at the challenges and opportunities facing the region.

The Government’s own social mobility adviser - former North East MP Alan Milburn - made a similar call in an interview with the Journal last year, but the proposal has fallen upon deaf ears at Government level.

In his letter to Mr Gove, Lord Beecham wrote: “It is with sadness that I hear of your department’s refusal to accept the proposal by Lord Adonis that the Government should follow the example set by the London Challenge in which the previous Government invested some £80m in boosting training and support for head teachers and staff in schools in the capital, with remarkable success.

“I would urge you to reconsider this decision, especially since, given the difference in population between the North East and London, the cost would be very much less.”

Lord Beecham reminded Mr Gove of a recent speech the Education Secretary gave at a prize ceremony for outstanding North East schools and pupils.

At the inaugural Lord Glenamara Prize ceremony Mr Gove spoke graciously of the late Lord Glenamara’s - one time Newcastle MP Ted Short - commitment to education in the region.

The former Labour cabinet minister and Newcastle MP, who died last year at the age of 99, served as education secretary from 1968 to 1970 and became Labour’s deputy leader in April 1972 when Roy Jenkins resigned.

Lord Beecham wrote in his letter: “I’m sure that if Ted were still with us he would join me in urging you to reconsider this decision. I do hope that on reflection you will conclude that such an initiative would be a powerful, practical and enduring way of honouring Ted’s memory in addition to the prize you have instituted in his name.”

Liberal Democrat education minister David Laws said a repeat of the London model could solve serious concerns raised about Northumberland in particular, where Ofsted has investigated.

Nick Hudson, the watchdog’s regional director, criticised the county council after a crisis review found the standard of schools in Northumberland was deteriorating. Four schools failed the Ofsted tests while three-quarters of the 17 inspected had failed to improve or had declined.

Mr Gove has criticised North East schools several times this year, commenting on the “smell of defeatism” and adding that “for far too long schools in County Durham, particularly in the east of the county have not been good enough.”

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