Central Newcastle High School headmistress calls for action on attainment gap

Hilary French, headmistress at Central Newcastle High School, has called for the North East Schools Challenge to be put into action

Hilary French, headmistress of Central High School in Jesmond, Newcastle
Hilary French, headmistress of Central High School in Jesmond, Newcastle

Education chiefs have been told they must start spending the schools cash intended to close the region’s attainment gap.

Hilary French, headmistress at Central Newcastle High School, has called for the planned improvements to educational standards across the region’s schools to be set in motion.

Back in July, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership was granted £4.7 million a year for six years to develop good leadership and improve careers advice.

After emerging as one of the successful parts of the region’s Local Growth Fund bid, outstanding school leaders can now share good practice with others.

The North East Schools Challenge will be modelled on a similar programme in London in which £80 million was spent turning around results in inner-city schools.

Ms French is keen to work alongside other school leaders in the region to ensure the challenge is a success, but has heard nothing so far about plans to roll it out.

“As a leading independent school we want to be involved in the schools challenge,” she told the Journal.

“There are seven local authorities in the North East and it would be a shame if politics and people standing on their own pride got in the way of progress.

“We need to get this challenge going.

“As a collaboration of school leaders we could do lots without the money.

“Schools in the region are doing a lot already but it’s patchy. London drove up standards effectively across the city because they worked together.

“It was the expectations and sharing of expertise that made it work.”

In London, many schools involved in the scheme saw significant improvements in standards and results. Head teachers were allowed to bring in consultants and experts to tackle problems.

Woodside Secondary School in north London was one of the worst performing in the city. But since being involved with the London Challenge in 2003 its results have improved dramatically every year.

Despite being the head of a fee-paying school, Ms French believes firmly poverty should not hamper a child’s education.

She said: “According to recent study by the Sutton Trust a lot of teacher in schools have very low expectations for the children they are teaching.

“A huge number of schools don’t consider sending children to Russell Group universities. Why not?

“Teachers should be telling children, from all backgrounds, to aim high.

“I would never tell a pupil, you can’t do that.

“We would happily share our facilities and expertise with schools across the region.

“As school leaders we’re all really excited about the prospect of a schools challenge to drive up standards across the board. All we need is someone to stand up and say, right, let’s get it started.”

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