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 ednorth.uk 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. 

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