The Schools and Academies Show

Schools North East’s Ben Hardy visited the Schools and Academies Show in Birmingham this week.

The Schools and Academies Show has been a date in my diary for the last six years but this year was different – my first as a delegate and my first representing Schools North East. 

This was also the first year that the Birmingham event had been split across two days and it had a similar effect as it did when they introduced this in London in April with a fairly empty feel to it. In addition to the two day split, I am sure that Purdah (16 speaker cancellations and an entire ‘Government Village’ removed) and the weather (I write this on the sixth hour of trains back from Birmingham to Hartlepool, having finally managed to get a seat) also played their part.

There were a few familiar faces from the region but mainly SNE Commercial Supporters as, despite an attempt to host the event in a more accessible location for schools in the North, it is probably easier to get to their London version of the event in April from most places in the North East, as I well know. Hopefully, the overview below will provide a short insight into some of the sessions on the day for those not able to make it. 

The first session of the day was a panel discussion: ‘A New Future for Education?’. I was looking forward to hearing from Mike Kane MP (Shadow Education Secretary) ahead of the upcoming General Election but was disappointed that he was one of the Purdah casualties. Whilst interesting to listen to Vix Lowthian (Education spokesperson for Green Party) and Baroness Sue Garden (Liberal Democrats) both alluded to the fact that it is unlikely that they will influence education policy in the near future. Both were aligned in wanting to abolish or at least strongly reform Ofsted, both were aligned in not knowing what would replace Ofsted.

Many in the room were in agreement with Baroness Sue as she called for education to be taken out of party politics and into the hands of professionals that wouldn’t be looking at things on a five year cycle (five year cycles seem ambitious to say the least in the current climate). These kinds of structural change to policy making are an issue that we are addressing with our Manifesto for North East Education – keep an eye out for the release of this very soon. 

With the Early Careers Framework being rolled out in the North East early in September 2020 I was interested to see what a panel of Debbie Clinton (CEO at Academy Transformation Trust), Reuben Moore (Director, Education Program, TeachFirst) and Emma Hollis (Executive Director, NASBTT) made of it all. The panel again reminded the audience about the retention rates of teachers by the time they reached the 5th year of teaching but pleasingly the conversation moved swiftly on from this harsh reality to solutions. 

The panel were realistic and pragmatic about the fact that school budgets are being squeezed at the same time as being asked to do more than ever. Emma Hollis’ suggestion was best received by those in the audience; she advised that if you are going to spend your professional development budget anywhere then spend it on mentors for trainee teachers and NQTs as, in her opinion, the evidence points towards quality mentors having the biggest impact on teacher retention and pupil outcomes. This year, Schools North East launched our Mentoring Programme for SBMs. Through this, we aim to bring together skills and experience to support upskilling and development of colleagues throughout the area to further support those involved in the running and management of our schools. If this is something you would like to be involved in please register your interest.

Those who have attended our AGM and/or Summit recently will know of the huge emphasis that we are placing on the impact of long term disadvantage, something which is felt particularly harshly across the North East. At the Schools and Academies Conference James Zuccollo, Director for School Workforce, EPI ran a session on ‘Is Government Tackling the Disadvantage Gap?’. The answer in a nutshell, technically yes but extremely slowly and at the current rate we will not see the gap closed for 500 years. 

Earlier this year the EPI Annual Report 2019 showed that the disadvantage gap tended to be larger and growing in parts of the North. Every Local Authority in the North East had a disadvantage gap above that of the national average, ranging from 18.8 to 22.6 months. Ten authorities had secondary gaps that were at least 14 months larger than their primary gaps in 2018. Of those 10, five were from the North East (Redcar and Cleveland, Hartlepool, Sunderland, Newcastle upon Tyne, and Gateshead).

The final session that I attended was with government behaviour tsar Tom Bennett on ‘How can we raise standards of behaviour in school?’. Tom talked about his experiences as a newly qualified teacher and the advice he was often given by others with no evidence to back this up. The session was short but to the point – make sure that practice is research and evidence based, and move to a more proactive approach to teaching behaviour as well as the reactive aspect. If you would like to get involved in the conversation around this then I would encourage you to become an Ednorth advocate. Visit to find out more. 

On the whole, the sessions that I attended made the journey down just about worth it, but what it did provide was a great reminder that we should all be really proud of the events that we put on in the region and the sheer number of attendees that we get which ensures the networking and collaboration aspect is just a big a part as the sessions themselves, this was most evident at my first SNE Summit last month with over 500 school leaders from all 12 North East LAs and beyond. 

Third of teachers say reducing class sizes is priority for government

Average class sizes have increased in 89% of constituencies in England, a study by the NEU has found. Alongside this, the union has found that reducing class sizes came top when members were asked to vote on which policy was most important in improving quality of education.

The analysis of class sizes indicated that almost a million pupils are now in classes of 31 or more, a 29% increase from 2011. However, last month the DfE claimed that ‘average class sizes have remained stable’.

Joint general secretary of the NEU, Dr Mary Bousted has blamed these figures on the funding crisis in education. “The real-terms funding crisis has had catastrophic effects, including a direct impact on class size. Today’s analysis will ring true for every parent who has witnessed their school cutting teaching assistant posts, reducing subject choice or organising fundraiser events and begging letters.”

A recent study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that Britain has the biggest primary school classes in the developed world.

There is no limit on class sizes beyond the age of 7 with pupils aged 4-7 required to be in classes of 30 or fewer to one teacher.

Research by the EEF has found that reducing class size does not have clear impacts until it significantly reduced to fewer than 20 pupils.

Further reading

Schools Week – Reducing class sizes top priority for next government, say teachers

The Guardian – School funding crisis is blamed for surge in supersized classes

The Telegraph – Britain has biggest primary school classes in the developed world, report finds

Maths Week – Maths Hub Exchange Programme

This week has been Maths Week in England and we are pleased to celebrate this by sharing a story from Parkhead Community Primary School.

11th November 2019

Mr. John Bee from Parkhead Community Primary school in Winlaton is currently in Shanghai taking part in a prestigious teacher exchange, focusing on mathematics, with a partner school in China.

Mr Bee is among around 100 expert mathematics teachers from schools
across England taking part in an exchange as part of the Maths Hubs
Programme. Parkhead Community Primary school is working with
the Great North Maths Hub.

There are 37 Maths Hubs, spread across England, each led by a school with a record of high achievement in maths, and of supporting improvements in maths teaching and learning in neighbouring schools.

The purpose of the exchange is to further develop the understanding and
implementation of mastery approaches to teaching maths in Mr Bee’s school, and in local partner schools he will be working with during the school year 2019/20. Yesterday Mr Bee met representatives from the NCETM and the department for education.

Today he is attending the official opening of the exchange programme at Shanghai Normal University where we will be officially welcomed by representatives from all over China with dignitaries and envoys being flown in from Beijing. After the welcome ceremony, he is attending lectures by Professor Gu on teaching for mastery and the principles behind it. Mr Bee has reported today from China; he says ‘this is surreal because I used Gu in my master’s degree thesis!’

Mr Bee is looking forward to meeting his partner Shanghai teacher and he has been asked to teach a lesson to the Chinese students which he is very excited about!

12th November 2019

Update from Mr Bee in Shanghai.

Morning from China!
Today I was welcomed with my partner teacher to one of my host schools.

We were greeted by children with flowers, our names on the big welcome screen and had a school tour.

We had a small conference with the head teacher and she was telling us about differences between China and England. Her school has 4400 children and 100 classes. Lessons last for 35 minutes and behaviour is exemplary. It’s so different!

14th November 2019

Over the past few days I have been researching the curriculum design, coherence in progression of lesson design and how children make small steps in learning throughout the lessons.

There is a real culture of learning amongst teachers who regularly drop into other lessons, make notes and refine their practice. I attended a Teacher Research Group with 50 teachers who all listened and spoke passionately about teaching approaches and some showcased what they have been doing in their class to enhance teaching and learning.

It has been interesting to see how ‘simple’ and focused the teaching has been and it is clear to see how stem sentences, specific and technical mathematical vocabulary and the role of concrete, pictorial and abstract representations all tie in with effective teaching and learning.

About the programme

This is one part of the Teaching for Mastery Programme, run by the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) in conjunction with the Maths Hubs Programme, and funded by the DfE. Funding for the four-year programme, initially amounting to £41m, was launched in July 2016.

The group of teachers, all of whom have completed training as Mastery Specialists in a programme run by the NCETM and Maths Hubs, will be visiting Shanghai in November 2019, and hosting their partner teachers from Shanghai in English schools in March 2020.

This is the sixth teacher exchange with schools in Shanghai since the Maths Hubs Programme was launched in autumn 2014.

For more information, see or contact

Education Links W/C 15/11/19 – The Northern Echo, Developer education fee rules frustration in North Yorkshire. – The Northern Echo, Stockton St Mark’s Primary school closes after virus outbreak. – Gazette Live, General Election 2019: The full list of polling stations as some schools are forced to close. – Gazette Live, Pride, enthusiasm and self-esteem: Inside a pupil referral unit, helping children no matter what. – Chronicle Live, Health officials called in as fever and vomiting outbreak sweeps Gateshead school. – Hartlepool Mail, 23 pictures of High Tunstall College of Science on their first day in new £18 million building.

GE causes disruption to school festivities

The General Election has resulted in an unexpected side effect for many schools which will be used as polling stations, forcing them to cancel or rearrange Christmas celebrations including nativities and concerts.

Earlier this week Education Secretary Gavin Williamson issued a call to keep disruption to a minimum, and to avoid using schools where possible, a move that was supported by Head Teachers.

However, the Association of Electoral Administrators has defended its actions as venues had to be booked urgently once the election had been called.

The DfE has offered funding to help find alternative venues, which has been dubbed ‘the Grinch fund’. Reports show that some councils are taking up this offer to avoid disrupting pre-planned events.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has said there needs to be future consideration about whether schools are appropriate venues.

Opportunity Areas see funding extension

The 12 Opportunity Areas across the country will see an extra £18 million investment, the DfE has announced. The Opportunity Areas, first launched in 2017 have seen £72 million in investment to improve educational outcomes, careers advice and post-16 options and teacher recruitment and retention.

The newly announced funding means that the programme will run into a fourth year, to August 2021.

Earlier this year Chair of the Commons education select committee, Robert Halfon, questioned whether the Opportunity Areas had proved effective in improving social mobility, and criticised how the money was being spent as well as how the programmes have been managed.

The Opportunity Areas include Blackpool, Derby, Norwich, Oldham, North Yorkshire Coast, West Somerset, Bradford, Doncaster, Fenland and East Cambridgeshire, Hastings, Ipswich and Stoke-on-Trent.

Opportunity North East is a separate programme meaning the region won’t benefit under this announcement.

Read more:

DfE – £18m extension to Opportunity Area programme

INews – Government to extend ‘Opportunity Areas’ scheme for social mobility ‘cold spots’

Education Links W/C 4/11/19 – Chronicle Live, How Tyneside nursery school led the way in early years education. – Chronicle Live, Newcastle and Durham university staff to go on strike for eight days amid pay row. – Chronicle Live, Simonside Community Centre set to be demolished as plans for new school get under way. – The Northern Echo, Wolsingham School seeking to become part of County Durham academy trust. – The Northern Echo, Fresh law calls to protect home schooled youngsters. – Darlington & Stockton Times, North Yorkshire school funding ‘rejection’ triggers incredulity. – Gazette Live, Parents driving ‘100 yards’ from home to school are ‘creating a lot of problems’. – Gazette Live, Head Teacher of top Teesside school steps down with immediate effect. – Northumberland Gazette, School crossing attendant set to start work helping Alnwick pupils across a busy road. – Northumberland Gazette, Creative Alnwick students rewarded for their artistic efforts.

Councils claimed education budgets will still be in deficit after three years.

It has been revealed that 29 councils in England told the DfE that their education budgets will still be in deficit after three years.

Out of the 32 councils who were asked to submit a financial recovery plan the DfE, the majority responded that it would be impossible to eliminate the deficits. All of the plans identified increasing costs of SEND provision.

These plans were drawn up prior to the Government’s recent funding announcements, however, Julie Cordiner, an education funding specialist, has said that the extra funding is not enough and it will not hit the places that need it the most: “There’s no guarantee that the extra money will go to the right places. There will be some lucky local authorities that get their deficits wiped out, but some won’t get anywhere near.”

Two of the 29 councils are in the North East: Darlington and Stockton on Tees. Analysis has shown that the North East will be receiving some of the lowest increases from the additional funding announced with only 3.7% of primaries benefiting from the additional funding, less than the national average of 4.3%. Only 7.7% of secondaries will see increases, the lowest outside of London and compared to a national average of 17%.

More on this story:

Tes – Depth of school funding crisis revealed

House of Commons report acknowledges SEND Crisis

The Education Select Committee report on their 18 month inquiry into Government reforms was released earlier this week. The report claimed that ‘a generation of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities is failing to receive the support it deserves.’

The report highlights poor implementation of the 2014 reforms as the main reason for ‘bureaucracy, buck-passing and confusion’. The committee supports the reforms in principle but claims that the legislation has been poorly implemented, putting Local Authorities under pressure, leaving schools struggling to cope and families facing crisis.

The report does acknowledge that lack of funding is a serious factor contributing to the issues, however, it suggests that additional funding would not have a significant impact without a culture change. The report recommends more emphasis on inspections and a more rigorous framework for this, powers for the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to investigate complaints about schools and a direct line for parents and schools to appeal to the DfE where Local Authorities are failing them.

Earlier this month the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman released a report warning about how the system is failing young people and families.

The SEND crisis has significant impact for the North East as the region has the highest proportion of pupils with SEND. Moreover since SEND inspections were introduced in 2016 nine out of 12 Local Authorities in the region have been inspected and eight were required to submit a written statement of action.

More on this story:

BBC News – ‘Unlawful practices and buck passing’ over special needs

Tes – Lack of SEND support ‘failing a generation of pupils’

Schools North East welcomes new Director

The Trustees of the charity are delighted to announce the appointment of Chris Zarraga as Interim Director.  

Chris has been with Schools North East virtually since its inception 12 years ago and, as Director of Operations, has been leading on the main strands of the charity’s strategy in the form of the Ednorth Programme and our renewed policy and influencing focus. Ednorth, 4 years in the planning and foundation-laying stage, is our most exciting, far reaching, and ambitious project to date; bringing an additional £650K of funding for North East schools. Our new policy focus, to support the Ednorth programme, and schools within our region, will see Schools North East leading the way in the shaping of a new narrative: the impact of long-term ‘deep’ deprivation on our schools and students, and the solutions that are deployed to resolve it.  

Chris has been instrumental in the strengthening of the Schools North East team, which he has led over the last 6 months, greatly enhancing its size and capacity to support North East schools. The Trustees are very excited to see another ‘step change’ in the evolution of the only schools-led regional network in the country, supporting all 1,150 schools in the North East.