Sponsor capacity to need ratio in the North amongst the lowest, report finds

The North of England RSC region has one of the lowest available sponsor capacity to need ratios and finding new sponsors could be a challenge, a new report by the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) found.

The ratio in the region is second lowest at 1.1 to 1, with Lancashire and West Yorkshire having the most need of new sponsors with a ratio of 0.7 to 1.


The report, A Tale of Eight Regions, identified 59 underperforming schools in the Northern region that have an immediate need for a new sponsor. There are currently 49 MATs that are ready for expansion in the area, with the capacity to take on 63 underperforming schools.

The NFER said growing sponsor capacity is now a key priority for RSCs, but points out that RSCs will struggle matching suitable sponsors, as the available sponsors and schools in need could be at opposite ends of the large regions they are in charge of.

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Free school policy ‘incoherent and poor value for money’

The Public Accounts Committee has strongly criticised the Government’s spending on new free schools, as well as its grip on providing much needed school places.

The Government has pledged to open 500 more free schools by 2020 and has recently announced the biggest wave yet (which includes two in the North East), saying this will give “more parents the choice of a good school place for their child”. However, the PAC report argues that its isn’t clear if the DfE is creating choice fairly and cost-effectively in the context of “severe financial constraints”.

Members of the Public Accounts Committee raised concerns over “tension between setting up new free schools and supporting existing schools”, adding that they remain to be convinced that the new free school policy represents the best use of the limited funds available.

This echoes a National Audit Office report which said billions were being spent on building new free schools while many of the existing schools were in crumbling, adding that this move was a “significant risk to long-term value for money”.

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SCHOOLS NorthEast analysis brought up in Parliament funding debate

School funding in the North East of England was the topic of a House of Commons Debate led by Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson on Wednesday.

Figures published by SCHOOLS NorthEast as part of a campaign to drive positive change in funding allocation for the region were mentioned, as well as some of our recent comments on changes to education policy.

Mrs Hodgson looked at the national situation, how the funding arrangements are affecting schools in the region and how the Government’s approach to the education system is affecting “the very nature of our schools, whose purpose is to educate our children and address societal issues, such as child poverty and social mobility”.

She gave Rickleton Primary School in her constituency as an example of schools which will see dramatic cuts, theirs nearing the £150,000 mark. Mrs Hodgson added:

The Head Teacher of Rickleton Primary School, Mr Lofthouse, set out clearly in an email to me, which I have sent on to the Secretary of State for Education, what those funding pressures will mean for his school, from potential staff redundancies to the impact on his pupils’ education, and it is not only Mr Lofthouse.

Many other headteachers across Sunderland have expressed similarly grave concerns. Those concerns were reflected in a meeting I held in Sunderland recently with around 30 headteachers and school governors, who all agreed that our schools were at a crisis point. That led me to securing this debate today.

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Academy at Shotton Hall announced as one of six new research schools in England

The Academy at Shotton Hall has been named as one of six new ‘research schools’ in England.

The Outstanding-graded Peterlee secondary school has been selected to receive £200k of funding to help improve the quality of teaching in the region by getting more teachers to use academic research in ways that make a difference in the classroom.

Over the next three years, it will work to break down barriers between teachers and academics by developing a programme of support and events for North East schools. These will include a range of training programmes designed to make research more accessible for teachers and bringing, what can too often be dismissed as complex concepts and principles, to life for use in the classroom.

The latest round of announcements brings the total number of research schools in the country to 11. They are:

Louise Quinn, Director of Shotton Hall Research School, who led the Academy’s bid said:

“As the founding school of the North East Learning Trust, a network of schools in the North East, we are well placed to lead on this exciting opportunity for the region. Making educational research accessible to teachers is at the heart of Research Schools. More importantly, they communicate what is most likely to work in terms of moving students on. Becoming a Research School not only puts us at the centre of innovative practice, but it gives us another method of improving outcomes for the children of the north east.”

SCHOOLS NorthEast welcomed the news and Director Mike Parker added:

“We need a step change in achievement, particularly at GCSE and A Level, and having a dedicated research school in the region will give a clear focus for engaging all North East schools in evidence-based education so that pupils achieve their full potential. We will do everything we can to support the Academy at Shotton Hall and help it to bring research into teaching practice for as many of our schools as possible.”

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Reasons to be angry

colin lofthouse
Colin Lofthouse, Head Teacher at Rickleton Primary School

It is not often as a jobbing Head Teacher that you get to talk to those who are actually devising and enacting education policy at the heart of government. But what is great about SCHOOLS NorthEast is that if you go along to their events, the calibre of their speakers means that you can get this chance.

And so it was at the White British Working Class conference at the Riverside stadium Chester Le Street. The morning began with Professor Stephen Gorard of Durham University, who gave an eye opening warning about the use of poor quality educational research that is used to sell interventions and justify education policy.

After lunch, the tone changed and we heard from Kate Chisholm, Headteacher of Skerne Park Primary Academy, a fantastic school in an area of huge deprivation in Darlington. It was uplifting to hear an impassioned description of the challenges she and her staff face in helping raise the aspirations of the pupils and community the school serves. The work they do to help the pupils realise their potential and be a successful against the pernicious effects of deprivation was great to hear. What came across strongly was the moral purpose, which underpins everything the school does.

From their breakfast club, to their ‘stage not age’ curriculum, to their pastoral support, that sees staff scooping up children and eating with them in their offices and classrooms, just to help them feel looked after and a little bit special during the day. Here is a school that has crystal clear moral purpose. They have a principled and committed leader who has a plan based on evidence of what works for its pupils and it is enacted by a similarly principled staff, driven to act with commitment towards the same, shared goal. I suspect it is like this in most good schools across the country.

What followed was somewhat different.

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Mental health commission announces first regional conference

The UK’s first and only schools-led commission into the mental health of pupils will hold its first conference on 8 June. 

This will be a full day event on mental health in schools, where school leaders and other professionals will receive practical advice on how to improve pupil wellbeing and mental health in their schools.


The conference will inform the work of the commission, Healthy MindED, which was set up by SCHOOLS NorthEast to bring together schools leaders and key stakeholders with the aim of developing a fresh approach that is adoptable across all schools.

We will be joined by Professor Dame Sue Bailey, Chair of  Healthy MindED and the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition.

Also presenting will be Professor Miranda Wolpert of the Anna Freud Centre and University College London, the UK’s leading expert on what works and what doesn’t regarding children and young people’s mental health.

In addition to expert speakers, there will be numerous presentations from schools and health services sharing examples of best practice in areas such as whole school approaches to mental health, making effective CAMHS referrals, and managing transitions within and between schools.

Prof. Dame Sue Bailey said:

The strength of SCHOOLS NorthEast is that it represents such a large community of schools who are not only committed to academic excellence, but as importantly to the emotional wellbeing of their pupils. At a time when schools are potentially becoming more atomised and policy more fragmented, this group of schools has decided to share good practice, learn from collective successes (and mistakes) in order to improve the lives of children and young people in the North East.

That is why the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition are delighted to be working with SCHOOLS NorthEast. I personally feel privileged to be asked to chair the commission.

New wave of free schools includes two approved in the North East

The Government announced its biggest wave of new free schools yet, with two out of a total of 130 nationally set to open in the North East.

The Department for Education said the new schools will give “more parents the choice of a good school place for their child”.

The two approved for the region will be:

  • Discovery Special Academy in Middlesbrough (special school)
  • Durham Gateway Academy in Durham (alternative provision)

The schools will create 204 additional places, whilst nationally 67,718 new places are being created in this wave of free schools. According to the DfE release, every other region will get at least 4,000 new places in this wave.

Sunderland is one of the 20 Local Authority areas that have been approved to create a new special school through the free school process.

In terms of need for places in the North East, the recently released DfE scorecards show that there is a much greater need for secondary places in the region than for primary places.

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EEF publishes findings on pilot projects for innovative teaching and learning

Three evaluation reports have been published by the Education Endowment Foundation looking at pilot programmes designed to find out if innovative approaches to teaching and learning can be delivered in schools in a practical way.

Spaced Learning, developed by the Hallam Teaching School Alliance and run by Notre Dame High School, builds on evidence from neuroscience and psychology that suggests information is more easily learnt and recalled when it’s repeated multiple times and separated by periods of unrelated activity. 2,000 pupils in 15 schools took part. Teachers were trained to give short, intensive biology, chemistry and physics lessons to Years 9 and 10 pupils (ages 13-15). The 12-minute sessions were repeated twice and broken up with ‘spaces’, where the pupils did something completely different.

The independent evaluators from the Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation at Queen’s University Belfast reported that the programme was successfully integrated into school timetables. Teachers found the ‘spaced’ lessons easy to deliver and pupils appeared to respond well. The researchers found some preliminary evidence that the most promising version of the programme uses both short 10-minute and longer 24 hour ‘spaces’.

Evidence for the Frontline, an online brokerage service to help bridge the divide between education research and classroom practice, is based at Sandringham School in Hertfordshire, with input from the Institute for Effective Education at the University of York and the Coalition for Evidence-Based Education.  Teachers were given the opportunity to ask leading academics questions about research in areas of interest to them, such as setting pupils by ability or gender. 192 teachers in 32 primary and secondary schools posted 249 questions as part of the year-long pilot. The most common topics included developing independent thinking in pupils and pupil behaviour and engagement.

The independent evaluators from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) found that overall there was good engagement with the platform. Most teachers who took part said it increased their enthusiasm for using research evidence and many said it improved their teaching. However, the evaluators reported that more work was needed to speed up responses to teachers and encourage more conversations between the teachers and researchers.

IRIS Connect: delivering classroom dialogue and feedback, developed by IRIS Connect in collaboration with Whole Education, is a programme using a technology package which allows teachers’ lessons to be filmed using cameras and microphones in the classroom, and an online platform for sharing recorded lessons between schools. Teachers can review these with their peers. This project involved ‘film club’ events, with the aim of embedding the use of dialogue and feedback in school culture. Eleven schools took part.

The evaluation of the pilot aimed to find out whether Iris Connect could be used to improve primary teachers’ use of feedback. The researchers from Birmingham University found that the overwhelming majority of teachers believed that the intervention was a good use of their time and had improved their teaching. There was also strong evidence that the film clubs promoted discussion of teaching and learning and moderate evidence that the programme changed teachers’ thinking and teaching practice.

Government officially launches apprenticeship levy

The apprenticeship levy that will require employers in the UK to fund apprenticeships has officially come into force today.

All public sector employers, including schools, will need to consider how they can increase the number of apprentices in their workforce. The way in which the levy applies to schools depends on the type of schools and the overall employer. We have put together information on what school leaders need to know and a breakdown based on school type which you can access here – Schools’ guide to apprenticeship reforms: what you need to know.

The Government said this is part of the “biggest shake-up of skills for a generation”.

The levy will apply to all employers in the UK with an annual wage bill of over £3m. It will require them to pay 0.5% of it towards funding apprenticeships. The money will then be invested in quality training for apprentices and double the annual investment in apprenticeships in England to £2.5m by 2019 to 2020.

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Spring-term Ofsted briefings: Concerns around off-rolling pupils

The spring-term Ofsted briefings organised by SCHOOLS NorthEast took place on Wednesday 5 April at two locations North and South of the region.

This term’s briefings had a focus on careers guidance and Ofsted’s National Lead for economics, business and enterprise, Adrian Lyons, gave advice to school leaders from across the North East. Senior HMI Joan Hewitt also spoke at the event.


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