The Education Select Committee 14th November: A Round Up 

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, appeared before MPs on the Education Select Committee on 14 November. Here’s a quick roundup of the key things she had to say:

Mental Health

In response to question from Chair Robert Halfon MP she said that children and parents had been talking to her about mental health since from the moment she started her job. Worryingly, she commented that a number of children told her reporting suicidal thoughts is not enough to get help – you actually have to attempt suicide to be taken seriously. This is something we have also heard from our partner schools.

In her opinion the prevalence of mental health problems among children is increasing, something teachers and parents have also reported to her. She cited the increasing complexity of life, social media and issues in home life as the main contributing factors and said she is keen to shine a light on this and let MPs know about it.

Government should hold review to look at the impact of digital. She is currently doing one herself and pushing social media companies to be more responsible. Citing mental health support in schools is an urgency.

Later in the session she said child mental health was one of the key social justice concerns that need to be tackled.

Opportunity Areas

Gateshead MP Ian Mearns asked why there is an Opportunity Area in the constituency of the Children’s Minister but none in the entire North East. This followed his question to the Secretary of State at an earlier section after SCHOOLS NorthEast contacted his office. He went on to ask why, as an advocate for children all over the country, she had not “raised an eyebrow” about the lack of an Opportunity Area in the North East.

Longfield replied that although she had no role in the allocation of Opportunity Areas, many areas in the North East would benefit from one. She said she would be oppressing for more opportunity areas where there is a great need for them and agreed that the North East should have one.

More generally, she said it was too early in the lifetime of Opportunity Areas to know how well they were working. She said she favours place based initiatives but her main criticism of Opportunity Areas was that they need to take on a much broader role than just education.

Alternative Provision

Chair Robert Halfon MP asked about Alternative Provision. Longfield replied that she welcomes the Committee’s inquiry, given that numbers are rising and outcomes for children are unacceptably low. She mentioned that the price per head for alternative provision can be 5 or 6 times higher than what it is in mainstream school.

She said her office had just produced a study on Alternative Provision, summarising its finding by saying children were generally disappointed with what the curriculum can offer them.

Role of the Children’s Commissioner for England

Ian Mearns asked if it was the Children’s Commissioner’s role to carry out an impact assessment of the cumulative impact of Government policies on children’s lives?

The Commissioner replied that the most thorough work on this is the UN’s “Children’s rights in impact assessments” report, which takes place every five years. She went on to say that her office did look across Government to try to bring together Departments and join the dots.

Further questioned by Mr Mearns on what had happened in the time since she last appeared before the Committee, she said that she had further strengthened her team and produced a new “vulnerability framework”. She said while there is much concern about vulnerability, there is no common definition or data. An established vulnerability framework which measures the extent and scale of vulnerability is therefore vital. She went on to say she would like to see the framework recognised by Government and the third sector.


Government to respond to consultation on ‘secure fit’ writing test model

Changes are expected to be announced soon following the governments consultation on the current assessment system.

Since 2016, reforms to the Sats have seen ‘secure fit’ marking system where all pupils are required to reach all of the criteria set out by government in order to reach the expected standard.

This system is seen to be too rigid, as pupils who reach all but one of the criteria are judged in the same way as those that miss all of them. It is also seen to discriminate against children with dyslexia.

The government has been consulting on these changes, and there has been a high level of engagement with teachers during the process. The response is expected to be announced soon, and the National Association of Head Teachers has advised head teachers to expect a ‘best fit’ model going forward, which would give more weight to the judgement of teachers.

This week the NAHT has written to its members following government talks, to advise them stop preparing for further tests under the current system as they expect the changes to come into effect from 2017-18.

EBacc target reduced to 75% following consultation

In 2015, the government pledged that 90% of pupils would be entered for the full slate of EBacc subjects by 2020.

Responding to a 2015 consultation on the EBacc published this week, the government is now aiming for 90% “starting to study EBacc GCSE courses” by 2025, meaning that they would not achieve the original target of 90% entered for the EBacc until 2027.

Justine Greening has stated that the consultation has allowed the government to listen to the concerns of schools and the barriers they face in achieving the original target. As a result they have now set a new target of 75% of pupils studying EBacc subjects by 2022.

One key concern that had been raised by head teachers through this consultation was a lack of specialist subject teachers, and this has played a part in the target changes announced this week.

The consultation also raised some other areas of concern for both parents and teachers around the potential for the curriculum to be narrowed, and some subjects (particularly the arts) becoming unviable due to low entry numbers.

So far the data does not support this as it shows that state-funded schools which have an increased EBacc entry, have also seen an increase in the uptake of arts subjects. Nor has there been a drop in GCSE entries to these subjects.

The English Baccalaureate, made up of English, maths, science, history or geography and a language is designed to ensure that more pupils have the opportunity to study these subjects (which are seen to open more doors to degrees), regardless of their social background. So far the numbers of pupils studying the EBacc has risen from 22% to 40% since 201o, whilst the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and non-disadvantaged pupils has closed by 9.3% at key stage 2 and 7% at key stage 4 since 2011.

Year of firsts for SCHOOLS NorthEast

SCHOOLS NorthEast broke fresh ground in a range of new areas in 2016/17 on behalf of the region’s schools.

The UK’s first and only schools-led regional network delivered new activity in leadership, governance and support for mental health in line with the new three-year strategy, Shaping Our Future, which was launched at the SNE Summit in October.

There was a landmark first for the Summit with Education Secretary, Justine Greening, putting in an appearance in her first official speaking engagement post the Conservative Party Conference.

The representative arm of SCHOOLS NorthEast’s work also involved engagement with government at all levels – regional and national – including briefing meetings with Department for Education officials and contributions to All Party Parliamentary Groups on education.

SCHOOLS NorthEast’s policy work on school funding was repeatedly cited in debates on the floor of the House of Commons and via the Education Select Committee.

The work of the UK’s first schools-led mental health commission, Healthy MindED, was recognised in debates in Westminster Hall and at national conferences on pupil wellbeing.

In line with the new strategy, work is underway to support schools in the region looking to collaborate in evidence-based education practice. Shaping Our Future outlines the ambition to support schools to create a culture of evidence-led teaching and this programme will continue to develop in 2017/18.

Considerable effort has been taken to grow capacity in the core SCHOOLS NorthEast team to meet the increasing demand from schools in the region for support. This enabled the highly-valued events programme to be further extended during this current academic year.

More than 2,000 school leaders have engaged with this year’s programme which included a number of new opportunities for schools to enjoy high quality CPD and networking opportunities. These included the Regional Governance Conference which attracted 400 governors and academy non-executive directors to the largest gathering of its kind in the country.

SCHOOLS NorthEast also delivered its first mental health conference with 150 delegates drawn from all corners of the region.

Other key events included two highly popular KS3 literacy conferences and the ever popular SBM Annual Conference.

The fourth strand of the Shaping Our Future strategy – supporting improvement in adult basic skills – saw SCHOOLS NorthEast engage in the North East Literacy Forum which led to the launch of the Read North East campaign which is targeting interventions and support to encourage greater parental engagement in reading with children, particularly in early years.

With a strengthened team, the programme for 2017/18 will be published in time for the new academic year.

We thank you for all your engagement and continued support and wish you all a restful summer break! See you in September!

Former Schools Minister announced for SNE Summit

ONE of the most ardent critics of the Government’s proposed grammar schools expansion programme has been confirmed as a keynote speaker at the SCHOOLS NorthEast Summit this October.

Rt Hon David Laws, Executive Chairman of the Education Policy Institute, has been vociferous in calls for greater levels of school funding and in exposing the dearth of evidence behind plans to widen selective education.

Mr Laws served in the Coalition Government from 2010-2015 in roles as Schools Minister, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Cabinet Office Minister. During his time as Schools Minister, he was responsible for policy areas including all capital and revenue funding, the Pupil Premium, accountability and policy on teachers and leadership.

More than 100 places at the summit have already been secured by schools in the first 24 hours of booking opening. To book your place, email

SCHOOLS NorthEast’s event programme continues to grow year on year, in response to feedback and input from our schools network across the region.

Following the latest changes to school inspections, we are coordinating a half-day briefing by Ofsted in September. The event will cover:

  • The latest changes and planned changes to school inspections;
  • The inspection of school governance;
  • How inspectors establish progress made by pupils who have special educational needs and/or disabilities; and
  • A questions and answer session with the panel of presenters.

We are pleased to be able to deliver this as a free event, which will be held on Monday 25th September at Boldon Quality Hotel, Boldon. There will be two, half day sessions (one morning and one afternoon) for delegates to choose from. Places will be limited to two per school as we expect demand for this event to be high. Find out more here.

We will also be holding our Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Tuesday 19th September at Shotton Hall, Peterlee. This event is open to anyone from one of our Partner Schools, however only the schools appointed member will be eligible to vote on the day. Further information on this event will be sent our shortly.

£1.3billion diverted into core funding over next two years

THE Government has announced that £1.3bn will be diverted into core school funding from other pots including money earmarked for new free schools and the ‘healthy pupils’ programme.

Education Secretary Justine Greening announced the funding switch as she confirmed the Government’s commitment to deliver the national funding formula in 2018.

The £1.3 billion, in addition to the budget set in the 2015 spending review, would mean that core funding would be £2.6 billion higher in 2019-20, compared to 2017-18, Ms Greening stated.

One of the chief concerns that has been raised is that the £1.3 billion is not ‘new’ money from the Treasury, but will instead be recouped from savings to be made in other areas of the DfE’s budget.

A total of £320 million of the additional funding will come from the new tax on sugary soft drinks and had been pledged to increase the primary sports funding pot from 2017-18.

Whilst the confirmation of the money for the sports funding is welcomed, the timing leaves Primary Heads little time to effectively plan how to use it before the start of the new term.

Further money will be taken from the free schools budget, fuelling concerns that the current free schools programme is too expensive to deliver.

Mike Parker, Director of SCHOOLS NorthEast also raised the concern that the £1.3 billion will still leave schools with a shortfall. He said: “While additional funding into schools’ core budgets is to be welcomed, there is no new funding and other areas of school life will be hit to fund the redistribution. Furthermore, while £1.3bn is significant, it falls considerably short of the £3bn funding blackhole the National Audit Office has calculated that schools are facing.”


Commission makes six key recommendations to tackle educational inequality

Recommendations from the Commission on Educational Inequality, led by Nick Clegg, include housing subsidies for teachers working in deprived areas.

The commission was set up by the Social Market Foundation and is chaired by former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. He is joined by Dr Becky Allen from Education Datalab, Sam Freedman from Teach First, Labour MP Stephen Kinnock and Conservative MP Suella Fernandes.

Their report, released today, makes the following six key recommendations:

1. Reduce housing costs for teachers in disadvantaged areas

“Schools in disadvantaged areas should have access to a fund for providing incentives to teachers that make housing more affordable. This should be run as a trial and the findings used to inform whether such schemes can be expanded in the future.”

2. Introduce leadership in low-income area schools as a condition for headship

“It should become a condition of gaining the headship qualification that a teacher has been in middle leadership in a school in a disadvantaged area. This would encourage experienced and aspiring teachers and school leaders to spend time in disadvantaged schools.”

3. Make schools publish training provision and turnover rates

“The Government should compel schools to publish data on training provision and turnover rates for early-career teachers in different schools and across multi-academy trusts. This should be produced in a standardised form so as to promote comparability and shine a light on retention and development problems.”

4. Launch “family literacy” classes in primary schools

“The Government should plan and launch a programme of after-school “family literacy” classes in primary schools with above-average proportions of children eligible for Free School Meals. Funding for these classes should be ring-fenced within the Skills Funding Agency budget.”

5. Take a new approach to the relationship between parents and schools

“Schools should take a new approach to contracts between teachers and parents, which should be signed by both parties as equals who both have responsibilities. Teachers should commit to setting high quality homework that demonstrably improves the child’s educational development and to supporting parents in helping their children; parents should commit to ensuring that this homework is completed and given due care, and to having regular contact with the school to discuss progress. Contracts should be signed in the early weeks of first attending school and renewed annually with each year’s teachers as the child progresses through the school.”

6. Implement new benchmarks for independent schools to meet

“New benchmarks for independent schools to meet in order to retain their charitable status should include their provision of out-of-school activities to the children of parents who live locally. In addition, independent schools that are registered as charities should publish information on the value of any support (‘public benefit’) they provide to the local community, whether this takes the form of teaching support, making sports facilities available or running extracurricular activities for children from the state-maintained sector in the local area. This should
be published alongside an estimate of the monetary value of the tax reliefs that the school enjoys due to charitable status.”

Halfon elected Chair of the Education Select Committee

Former Apprenticeships Minister Robert Halfon has beaten five other Conservatives to be elected to the influential post.

Halfon was sacked by Theresa May in the cabinet reshuffle that followed June’s snap general election and has been critical of the Prime Minister and the way in which the Conservative campaign was fought.

In the election yesterday, he beat five other Conservative candidates including a fellow ex-DfE minister, Tim Loughton. The results were as follows:


Halfon is originally from North London, where he attended the independent Highgate School before studying for a politics degree at Exeter University and a Master’s in Russian and Eastern European politics.

After graduating, Halfon worked for Conservative MP Oliver Letwin and the Conservative Friends of Israel. He contested the Essex seat of Harlow unsuccessfully in both 2001 and 2005 before entering parliament in 2010. In 2014 he became Parliamentary Private Secretary to George Osborne, who is seen as a close ally.

Unusually for a Conservative, Halfon is a strong supporter of trade unions and is a member of Prospect. He describes his brand of politics as “White Van Conservatism”, aimed at aspirational working class voters.

Now that Halfon is in place as Chair, the rest of the committee will be appointed shortly. During the last Parliament, two North East Labour MPs – Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle North) and Ian Mearns (Gateshead) were members.

Have your say on Ofsted short inspections

SCHOOLS NorthEast would like your views on the changes that Ofsted has proposed and would appreciate it if you took the time to fill out this very short survey.

As we reported a few weeks ago, Ofsted is proposing two key changes to the short inspection process, which were introduced for “good” schools in 2015:

  • At the moment if inspectors decide that a short inspection should convert into a full inspection, this will take place within 48 hours. Ofsted is proposing  to extend this period so that the full inspection will take place within a maximum of 15 working days of the short inspection.
  • Ofsted is proposing that some “good” schools should receive full inspections from the outset instead of a short inspection if “published information, Ofsted’s regional intelligence and Ofsted’s risk assessment process indicate that there will be a need to collect more evidence than is routinely gathered on a short inspection to reach a judgement about the school”.

The deadline for submitting responses is Friday 18 August 2017 and we would urge you to respond using this online form if you have strong opinions on these proposals.

SCHOOLS NorthEast will also be responding on behalf of schools in the region and we would like your input. Please fill out this brief survey and we will incorporate your views into our response.


Big increase in pupils achieving ‘expected standard’ in Key Stage 2 SATs

On Tuesday (4 July) the Department for Education released the interim 2017 Key Stage 2 attainment figures to provide “some context around the national curriculum assessment results returned to schools”.

61% of pupils reached the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics this year, compared to just 53% last year. Scaled scores – which indicate how many marks pupils need to achieve the expected standard were also released.

Performance in all areas of assessment has improved compared to last year as the graph below shows:


This data is just provisional and more information will be published at the end of August. This will include breakdowns by local authority and school type, which will give a better idea of how North East schools have done compared to last year.

School level data will be published in December.


Scaled scores

The marks required to achieve the expected standards (100) in the following tests were as follows:

  • Mathematics: 57 out of 110 (60 in 2016)
  • Reading: 26 out of 50 (21 in 2016)
  • Grammar, punctuation and spelling: 36 out of 70 (43 in 2016)

The average scaled scores for each of these has increased compared to last year:

  • Mathematics: 104 (103 in 2016)
  • Reading: 104 (103 in 2016)
  • Grammar, punctuation and spelling: 106 (104 in 2016)

You can view the full tables of scaled scores here.