David Laws: Can English schools close the disadvantage gaps?
The Rt Hon David Laws, Executive Chairman of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), was the first speaker of the day. The former Schools Minister relayed to the crowd the findings of EPI in closing the disadvantage gap in England, with a particular focus on the North East.
Mr Laws said: “To have achieved so much with so many economic issues in the past decade is something to be extremely proud about.
“However, while we’re doing well in narrowing the gap in primary and early years, it is in secondaries where we have these problems.
“Collectively in England, schools have narrowed the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged massively in the past decade, by 22% at the end of Early Years, 23% at Primary and 14% at Secondary.
“Nevertheless, schools with large amounts of disadvantaged pupils did better to close the gap than those with a lower amount of disadvantaged pupils.”
Read the full article here and read the EPI report here.
Sir Kevan Collins: Education policy, education reform and social justice. Harnessing evidence to improve outcomes for all
The focus of Sir Kevan Collins’ rousing speech was on three key topics: Early Years (self-regulation, language and communication and parental engagement), Teaching ‘Best Bits’ (meta cognition, improving feedback, securing early literacy and going beyond academies) and Post 16 and the ‘forgotten 40%’ (tackling misconceptions, diagnostic assessment and planned learning programmes).
Addressing the delegates, he said there had been a “total failure” to address the group of pupils who don’t get 5 A*-C or 4/5 grade GCSEs. He also spoke of the 1 in 7 schools where free school meal pupils perform as well as non-free school meal pupils and his ambition to see this move to nearer 1 in 3 or better in the future.
Mr Collins then went on to criticise a myriad of organisations who sell non evidenced solutions to schools, saying that there is “a lot of snake oil in the system.”
“Education evidence is more accessible than ever before. Our professional obligation is to start from what we know and reject uninformed fads.”
His presentation was rich with information for schools looking to use proven solutions, such as meta cognition and feedback, and to improve progress and attainment for all pupils. Sir Kevan received outstanding feedback, rallying the packed crowd and leaving them on the question of “why is the education sector so weak at spreading and sharing lessons from disciplined and informed innovation?”
Panel discussion: Ann Mroz, Rt Hon David Laws, Sir Kevan Collins, Rebecca Allen, John Hardy and Leslie Powell
In the half hour debate led by Ann Mroz, editor of the Tes, the panellists were asked what their number 1 leadership issue was:
Lesley Powell said it was the “Challenge of recruitment and retention.”
John Hardy told the crowd it was “funding” as for the “first time in 20 years heads are dealing with static or shrinking budgets.”
Becky Allen said for her it was “reconciling the accountability system with the things that Heads really want to do with their schools.”
Sir Kevan Collins told the audience it was “building the confidence and joy back into teaching so people feel rewarded.”
And for David Laws it was “delivering school improvement in the current system in the face of accountability and financial pressures and school structure issues.”
The debate then turned to the topic of Early Years, with a question on the access to Early Years for disadvantaged children.
John Hardy questioned why the Government provided incentives to narrow the gap before nursery and then removed the incentives for non-working families, allowing the gap to widen again for the children who needed it most as they are only entitled to 15 hours, not the 30 hours working families are given.
Becky Allen said there was an urgent need for more evidence on the benefits of Early Years, saying “it’s important, but there is no evidence on it currently.”
David Laws then said that the government’s policy of giving working parents 30 hours free childcare but denying it to disadvantaged parents who are unemployed is “utterly nuts”. He described it as being akin to a “negative Pupil Premium”.
Kevan Collins then said that he is “keen to have funding proposals put forward to study effectiveness of Early Years interventions.”
Accountability and Progress 8
The panellists were then questioned on whether or not accountability drives school behaviour on Progress 8 and how can we improve the measure.
Becky Allen said that “it’s not an awful accountability metric” but that it is a “curriculum compliance measure”. She also believes that “Humanities should be in the bucket” and has a “real concern over languages as Progress 8 actively discourages entering pupils for this subject”.
Leslie Powell told the crowd that she thought the focus on ‘every child, every grade’ is good but is concerned that “Achievement 8, Progress 8 and EBacc contradict themselves
“We need to do more to recognise children at the very bottom. I have concern over outliers as the system is too sensitive.”
Ms Powell concluded that it should be considered as a measurement of the school and “not the cohort so should only be a measure over time.”
Kevan Collins got the biggest cheer of the day when he spoke passionately about his concern that the accountability framework was focused on “finding groups of children who are the best to go to university and ignored all other routes for children.”
He said: “The system is ill-equipped to support children that may not be right for university. We are just obsessed with route one kids.”
David Laws followed this with his point that for the system to have this level of autonomy, it “has to have accountability.”
“We had to move away from threshold approaches (the old 5 A*-C) which drove all the efforts around the C/D boundary.
“I believe Progress 8 is an incentive for people to lead tougher schools.”
Finally, a question from the floor asked: “what is the London view of the difference between primary and secondary performance in the region.”
The panel concluded that primaries may “feel like home” to pupils more, but that there are concerns over rural communities where pupils have to “travel larger distances and out of their communities to attend school.”
Iain Veitch and Mike Parker: SCHOOLS NorthEast Update
In their speech to the large crowd of delegates at the SCHOOLS NorthEast Summit, Mike Parker, SNE Director and Iain Veitch, SNE Vice Chair, used their impassioned speech to not only promote the achievements and successes over the past 10 years of the charity, but to implore to the audience the importance of becoming a partner school, highlighting the ‘moral purpose’ that comes with partnership.
Iain Veitch said: “The primary aim for SNE was to build a network for schools to collaborate and work together across geographical boundaries. In this, it has undoubtedly been a resounding success.”
They began with taking the audience back to 2007, when the last Harry Potter book was published and Tony Blair ended his time as Prime Minister. It was also an important year for SCHOOLS NorthEast, as that was the year the charity was established.
Iain Veitch brought a spotlight onto the varied successes of the charity – from the HealthMindED commission to the inception of Jobs in Schools North East, having saved his school almost £16,000 per year in recruitment fees.
Talk then turned to the influence of SCHOOLS NorthEast.
Mike Parker said to the crowd: “While we celebrate collaboration, and champion practical solutions to the problems school leaders face, the USP of SCHOOLS NorthEast is the voice it gives you in a national education system that is dominated by the Westminster bubble.
“What you have collectively achieved is to create a coherent voice for the region’s schools in the national debate. To have an organisation that stands up for you both within and outside of the region is repeatedly cited nationally as a real asset.”
The influence of SCHOOLS NorthEast was cited in policy, media and in challenging the Government.
Mike said: “This is the tip of the influence iceberg. SCHOOLS NorthEast is now represented on All-Party Parliamentary Groups on school leadership and governance; our research has been quoted in the House of Commons and by members of the Education Select Committee; we represent you on national boards including the Careers & Enterprise Company strategy group alongside the director generals of the CBI and British Chambers of Commerce; we are invited to the DfE to participate in national forums and policy-specific groups such as the development of Achieving Excellence Areas under the last White Paper.
“All this work culminated in the presence of the Education Secretary here on stage at the Summit last year. And the fact remains that this is an organisation that increasingly has a voice that is listened to in Westminster and is not one of the stone throwers that is automatically ignored.”
Closing on the moral purpose of the organisation, Mr Veitch said: “I believe that we have something special here – there is no organisation like us anywhere else in the country, no apolitical institution which is prepared to be the voice of the children in the region it serves. Those notions of being independent and apolitical are crucial to our success; our legitimacy comes primarily from the fact that so many have chosen to be Partner Schools programme, members who will contribute to the agenda.
“It is the fact that we as members own the organisation and dictate its direction which prevents us from being open to the charge of being just an events based company or a partisan mouthpiece.
“If you value this organisation and not only appreciate everything it has done so far but also want it to grow in influence and strength, then please be a Partner School. Those of you have not joined yet, please do; those of you who have, go out and recruit another school.
“At a time of London centric politics, it is vital that not only do we have a strong regional voice but also partnership which binds. Put simply, together we are stronger.”