I hate working alone

I hate working alone. So much so that I’ve recently moved in with my new  deputy head. Professionally speaking of course! We have co-located in the same office. It made sense since we both work best through discussion, collaboration and simply ‘chewing the fat’ as the old saying goes.

For me it’s a chance to have another brain to test out a response to a parent, or a spelling, or share in celebrating a pupil who comes up with some fantastic work. I was actually feeling a little left out, as our staff all have PPA together in planning partnerships, it serves the same supportive purpose and as a result the shared workload and top quality lesson planning through collaborative innovation benefits everyone.

Jan is in the midst of an intense induction phase. She moved up from London to join our school and so feels somewhat disconnected to the North Eastern Education scene. I’m sure many of you will have experienced the same feeling when you land in a new area or local authority and suddenly you don’t know who to contact, you feel lost without your set of phone numbers and have to build new networks. And its vital to do this quickly as leadership can be a lonely place without the ability to ‘phone a friend’.

I’m on my fourth local authority and have become pretty adept at quickly creating contacts and networks of support. But having said that, I’ve always been based in the North East and so my networks have always been fairly close by and reachable. It’s very different if you move a long way.

I’m really enjoying connecting Jan with some of the fantastic networks that are available in our region. Chief amongst which is SCHOOLS NorthEast of course! We are uniquely lucky to have an organisation like SNE serving us. Its events and newsletters provide links and networking opportunities, that are the envy of the rest of England. Then there are the Universities, teaching schools, cluster groups, unions, community groups, Twitter even – the list is ever growing.

It really worries me when I come across colleagues who don’t look outward and aren’t connected to others. Schools who deliberately, or through accountability pressure or circumstance, cut themselves off from the networks around them, rarely thrive. In fact I see it a lot through my inspection work – it’s a really obvious characteristic of failing schools that they are cut off from others. They lack the drive to innovate; they don’t see the need, as they don’t have the yardstick of comparison. Not seeking alternative viewpoints or opportunities for comparison prevents questions from forming. They only see their school through their own lens, which inevitably leads to an atrophy of innovation – ‘We are as good as we can be’, ‘this is the best way’. Without a stimulus to ask ‘Isn’t it?’ or ‘Aren’t we?’  a school will never improve.

I listened to a fascinating radio documentary 1 the other day, which investigated how government could get better at experimenting and learning from getting things wrong. It had huge resonance for the important ideas behind good networking and school improvement. The central theme was that networking is synonymous with growth mindset characteristics – which makes perfect sense to me.

It is safe to stay the same. Trying something different takes courage, energy and confidence because it invites failure. It is human nature to avoid situations in which we might fail.

Take a situation where you have 6 ideas for change in your school. You try the first 2, they fail, then a third which also fails. Who would keep going on the fourth, fifth, sixth? Only the brave. But what if the sixth unlocked massive improvement in outcomes?

Research into the success of innovative Silicone Valley companies identified a common thread of an empowered attitude to failure. Coined the Silcone Valley Mindset (read growth mindset) the courage to test out and embrace failure until they struck gold.

Through visiting and talking to other schools who are doing things differently to us with success energises me and gives me confidence to drive change and experimentation in my own school. You don’t know what you don’t know, unless you go looking for it. The same goes for your staff – get them out. Think for a moment about your staff  – how many of them in the last 2 years may have never visited another school to look at something new?

My wife is a Professor of Education (yes… the brains behind the operation – I am proud to say) she has just started a new job at Leeds Beckett University; check out Collective Ed below her first piece of work. Suddenly we are both becoming connected to a whole new set of fantastic, committed, thinking teachers, researchers and educationalists. Working in contexts very different from mine and I am embracing it with open arms. Especially as it involves beer.

Ever heard of BrewEd? Well if you are nervous of networking but like a drink this may be the answer to your prayers and it’s coming to a pub near you.

The brain child of Daryn Simon and Ed Finch from Sheffield who could see the power of educational networks and debate on Twitter, but were frustrated by the limitations of 140 characters, decided to use the platform to invite interested teachers and leaders to a pub, creating an informal space for a day of structured debate, chat, eating and socialising – perfect! The idea has gathered momentum and the second event in Wakefield a few weeks ago put me in touch with colleagues with new and unfamiliar ideas. Events are now planned for Oxford and Newcastle.

See you there!

#brewedwake   @ed_debate  @MrEFinch  @darynsimon

CollectivED Dec 2017 Issue – Prof R Lofthouse, Leeds Beckett University

  1. ‘Learning from Life and Death’ Matthew Syed, BBC radio 4

 Colin Lofthouse is the Head Teacher of Rickleton Primary School in Washington. 

Want to be our next Talking Head? Contact Nicola Chapman, Marketing and Communications Officer, for more information: n.chapman@schoolsnortheast.com/0191 2048866


More North East schools below floor standard in Key Stage 4 results

More North East schools are below floor standard in Key Stage 4 results, however commentators have urged caution over this year’s data in light of significant curriculum and assessment changes that have impacted Progress 8.

The DfE’s publication of revised KS4 results yesterday showed that:

  • The North East has the most schools of any English region below the Government’s Progress 8 floor standard of -0.5. 20.9% of state-funded secondaries in the region fell into this category, up from 17.2% last year.
  • This comes against the background of a worsening situation nationally: the number of schools falling below the standard in England as a whole went up by 2.7% from 2016 to 2017 and now stands at 12%.
  • There are more “coasting” schools in the region than elsewhere in the country, with the number of schools meeting the DfE’s definition rising from 14.8% in 2016 to 16.9% in 2017.
  • The impact of the new Maths and English GCSEs appears to have been worse in the North East than in other regions. This is particularly evident in the English component of Progress 8, which saw a fall of -0.12. Most other regions saw small increases or decreases in their scores, aside from the South West which saw a larger fall of -0.15.

Commenting on yesterday’s data Mike Parker, Director of SCHOOLS NorthEast said:

“These results have to be seen in the context of a significant overhaul in GCSEs this year. Experts predicted this would be the case and it has seen more schools across the country go below the floor standard.

“That said, we have to be more ambitious for educational outcomes here in the North East.

“The results highlight the disparity of our region compared to others in the country and there are three main areas that have to be urgently addressed.

“Firstly, secondary schools in the region have to be given a level playing field. The Department for Education has neglected the North East. Too many of its initiatives and major funding allocations which are too often focused in and around Opportunity Areas. The North East remains the sole region outside of London not to be included in this flagship policy area.

“North East schools are operating with a fraction of the money that London schools enjoy; they face a recruitment crisis; and, they face some of the most challenging conditions in a sparsely-populated region with widespread poverty which is proven to be the major drag on education attainment.

“That said, leaders in the region cannot, and must not, accept this as a fait accompli. They have to ruthlessly pursue measures to bring about a step change in education in this region. A relentless focus on evidence-based practice has to be at the core of all that schools do now and in future.

“Finally, the communities around schools have to become more actively engaged and supportive of education in the region. Employers – private, public and third sector – have to understand and embrace their role in improving the basic skills of their workforces. They also need to positively promote the importance of education and back schools so that the parents and grandparents they employ fully understand the role they play in supporting their children through secondary education.”

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 info@schoolsnortheast.com.

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.