North East wins Government support for ambitious schools programme

Schools minister David Laws last night backed an ambitious programme to boost under-performing schools across the North East

Andrew Matthews/PA Wire Schools Minister David Laws
Schools Minister David Laws

Schools minister David Laws has backed an ambitious programme to boost under-performing schools in the North East - but been told he now has to get proper Government support.

Plans for a North East Schools Challenge - a version of a similar scheme that pushed up children’s achievement in London - were first recommended by Lord Adonis in his look at the North East economy.

The schools minister was joined by shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt at a launch event in London to hear the results of a report carried out by London-based think tank CentreForum outlining how the capital’s successful school improvement programme can be emulated around the country.

Schools North East director Rebecca Earnshaw, who represented the region at yesterday’s launch, said both ministers agreed the North East had all of the characteristics and assets needed to make a London-style challenge work.

“There’s just one thing missing,” said Ms Earnshaw. “That deal-maker role which the Government must commit to. We need their support to get going and bring the project together.

“Both ministers acknowledged today that we have some outstanding schools with some outstanding practise which could support something like a challenge.

Rebecca Earnshaw, Schools North East director
Rebecca Earnshaw, Schools North East director
 

“Of all the areas across the country here today we were recognised as the most ambitious in our approach to tackling our under-performing schools as a region and not just one local authority.

“Today has filled me with optimism that we can finally get this challenge off the ground. Now it’s doing the hard work to make it happen.”

The report says that applying lessons learnt in the capital to other parts of England will improve the life chances of hundreds of thousands of pupils.

A little more than a decade ago, pupil outcomes in London were worse than anywhere else in the country. Today they are the best and the London Challenge has been integral to this transformation.

Chris Paterson, director at CentreForum, said: “There is definitely a strong North East focus in the report as it is the place trying hardest to ‘initiate’ a challenge at a full region widescale. At the moment we have a problem in that there is quite a large degree of variation across different regions around educational performance. London had the same issue and turned it around.

“The North East is one of the lowest performing regions in terms of pupil outcomes and could benefit from an initiative much like the London Challenge.

“There are a lot of schools doing a good job at closing the gap but they are not evenly spread. The region needs to take that knowledge and move it around where it’s most needed. That’s what they did in London to great effect.

“While some degree of funding would needed be to drive the project forward, the North East doesn’t need as much funding as London.

“What it does need is the Government’s support to pull it all together and give the ‘challenge’ a degree of authority. The North East is perfectly positioned it just needs this last extra push.”

Schools minister David Laws said he welcomed the report on regional challenges.

“All our children and young people deserve a high quality education, irrespective of where in the country they live,” he said. “It is vital that we learn from the successes of initiatives such as London Challenge, so that all areas can work in partnership with other schools and organisations to address under-performance.”

Shadow secretary of state for education Tristram Hunt added: “This is an excellent report - the success of the London Challenge programme at turning round the capital’s schools, delivering excellence and high expectations for all learners, and lifting the life chances of disadvantaged children is one the great achievements of the last Labour government.

“The challenge now, as this report highlights, is to build on that and encourage local collaboration, partnership and challenge across the rest of England.”

The Government is this month expected to announce how it will hand out billions of pounds in local growth cash to the English regions, including deciding on a £760m North East bid.

The region has included in its strategic economic plan a bid for Government-backing for a £30m school improvement fund, an idea first suggested by Lord Adonis in his look at the North East economy.

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