Package to transform education and opportunities for the most disadvantaged to level up nation

The Education Secretary has announced major reforms focused on raising school standards all over England from plans set out in the government’s Levelling Up White Paper. 

The report states that education will be at the heart of major new reforms set to give every child and adult the skills they need to fulfil their potential, no matter where they live. 

The plans identify 55 cold spots of the country where school outcomes are the weakest, to target investment, support and action that help children from all backgrounds and areas to succeed at the very highest levels. These include Rochdale, the Isle of Wight, Walsall, parts of Yorkshire and Sunderland.    

As 95 per cent of these areas are outside London and the South East, it is the struggling schools of the North, Midlands, East of England and South West that will be receiving much more support over the next decade.  

In these new ‘Education Investment Areas’, the Department for Education will offer retention payments to help schools keep the best teachers in the highest priority subjects. These areas will be prioritised as the location for new specialist sixth form free schools where there is limited provision to ensure talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to the highest standard of education this country offers. 

Schools in these areas that have been judged less than good in successive Ofsted inspections could be moved into strong multi-academy trusts, to attract more support and the best teachers. This will be subject to a consultation in the spring.  

The paper will set a new national mission to ensure that 90 per cent of children leaving primary school in England are reaching the expected standard in reading, writing, and maths by 2030. In 2019, just 65 per cent of pupils met all three standards, with the proportion substantially varying across the country. 

Schools in the Education Investment Areas will also be given support to address wider issues. For instance, schools struggling with attendance will be encouraged to join a new pilot programme to tackle the issue.  

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “The most valuable resource on the planet is the human resource. Investing in people to get on in life and receive the best possible education is core to the mission of this government, and we are determined to help people gain the knowledge and skills needed to unleash their potential.   

“This White Paper sets out our blueprint for putting skills, schools and families at the heart of levelling up. It focuses on putting great schools in every part of the country, training that sets you up for success in a high-skilled, well-paid career and ensuring no one misses out on opportunities simply because of where they live or their family background.   

“Raising our expectations and aspirations for children, as well as creating a high-skilled workforce, will end the brain drain that sees too many people leaving communities in order to succeed. These plans will help create a level playing field and boost the economy, both locally and nationally.”  

The plans will also set out the government’s commitment to making Institutes of Technology the pre-eminent organisation for technical STEM education in England, through which successful ones may apply for a Royal Charter. This will help secure their long-term position as anchor institutions in their regions, placing them on a par with the UK’s world-leading historic universities. 

The government will also double the capacity of the supported internship programme to provide thousands more young people who have additional needs to secure and sustain paid employment. Backed by £18 million over three years, the programme will additionally drive up the standards and quality of internship delivery across the country for students who have an Education Health and Care Plan.   

Children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), their families and caregivers will be better supported with respite care and internship opportunities.  Councils will be funded £30 million for the next three years to set up more than 10,000 additional respite placements, helping to provide positive opportunities for disabled children and young people and to give family carers a break so they can look after vulnerable children better in the long-term.     

Commenting on an announcement by the government of ‘major new reforms’ to improve education and skills in ‘Education Investment Areas’ in order to ‘level up the nation’, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union, said: “The significant and additional challenges that schools in some parts of the country face are undeniable. Those schools and the pupils they serve certainly deserve extra support. Sadly, this announcement appears to fall short of what those schools and communities really need. 
“What is needed is not another set of arbitrary targets, but a proper plan to ensure that every child has the very best start to life. This should include targeted support for the Early Years, as well as investment in the crucial support services that should be in place to support the pupils and families that need them. Schools are a vital part of this work, but they cannot do it alone. 
“Rather than engage with those underlying issues, the government appears to have once again reached for simplistic solutions linked to structures and targets. Pointing at the problem is not the same as solving it. Setting targets for improvement is not the same as having a credible plan to deliver it.  
“Schools in these areas already do so much to support these pupils and it’s about time that the government caught up with them.” 

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