Schools North East challenges Education Secretary to adopt positive narrative on North East Education

Schools North East called on Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to adopt a positive narrative around North East schools and education at Academies 2020.

Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, addressed over 250 Academy Leaders and Head Teachers at Schools North East’s annual Academies Conference at St James Park on the morning of Thursday 30th January.

Before introducing the Secretary of State, Chris Zarraga, Director of Schools North East, took the opportunity to present our Manifesto for North East Education – key recommendations for all parties and policymakers from North East schools. He highlighted in particular how ‘all parties must embed the principle that areas of long-term deprivation need detailed consideration to avoid the formulation of ineffective ‘one-size fits all’ policy’, and that ‘all parties and policymakers must sign up to promoting a positive, accurate narrative that supports our schools, acknowledges the challenges they face and encourages teachers to remain in and join the profession.’

Welcoming delegates, Mr Williamson thanked teachers for their hard work improving opportunities for students in the region. He spoke about celebrating the work happening in the North East, discussing the Opportunity North East project and teacher retention and recruitment strategies.

Mr Williamson engaged with some of the recommendations in the Manifesto for North East Education in his own address, speaking positively of education in the region and backing our recommendation for evidence based strategies to tackle those areas experiencing challenges. He also praised the fantastic collaboration between schools in the region, both through the work of MATs and the Schools North East network itself. Greater collaboration between schools is another recommendation of our Manifesto, and so it is reassuring to see that this is also important to the Education Secretary.

Answering a question about whether teachers can expect a period of stability, the Education Secretary said that he would resist the temptation to reform the curriculum, and instead wants to focus on helping teachers to deliver the current curriculum, aligned to our recommendation for a longer term view of education policy.

Chris Zarraga said in his opening address that the recent seismic changes to the political map of the North East mean that all parties will need ‘to invest money, time and thought into understanding the needs of the region’ if they want to retain the trust of the electorate’.  As such it was encouraging to see the Education Secretary engage with our Manifesto for Education and speak positively of the North East and its schools. He went on to say that ‘I would hope that the Secretary of State, on returning to Westminster, will consider and reflect on those key messages of context, evidence, and targeted support and that any policy he formulates going forward is seen through the lens of those messages.

More than anything though, I would hope that going forward he at least robustly challenges the prevailing negative narrative about North East schools, their teachers, and their students.’

Schools North East hopes that Mr Williamson and the Department for Education will take this forward when it comes to forming education policy, and continue the dialogue with North East Schools about how best to support the region’s schools.

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