Regional links W/C 24/2/20

Young Darlington bakers rise to the challenge in aid of the elderly (The Northern Echo)

Durham school head’s plea to Government and council leaders (The Northern Echo)

Coronavirus: Carmel College, Darlington and Trinity Catholic College, Middlesbrough send pupils home (The Northern Echo)

Could you be a teacher? Government launches recruitment drive in Middlesbrough (The Northern Echo)

School children to compete in national Lego League competition with design of solar-powered tram for King Street (The Shields Gazette)

Apology after primary school pupils left without a hot meal as region hit by freezing weather (The Shields Gazette)

Gateshead teacher tested for coronavirus after returning from school trip to Italy (Chronicle Live)

Government told to “go big or go home” over massive regional inequalities affecting North East (Chronicle Live)

Sunderland Council set to approve £5m expansion of city primary school (Chronicle Live)

Growing up in poverty causes North East children to die younger as life expectancy falls in places (Chronicle Live)

Head Teachers from Czech Republic visit North East

Schools North East have facilitated a visit from a group of 21 Czech Head Teachers to visit schools in the region.


The group were looking to visit schools to see best practice in leadership and school management. During their stay they visited schools at Seaton Valley Federation, as well as John F Kennedy Primary School and Cardinal Hume Catholic School.

The visits also provided them with experience of UK reaching practices and our school system. We hope that the visit was useful for them to gain an understanding of UK teaching practices and our school system, and a big thank you to the schools who hosted them.

Lord Agnew to leave the DfE

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System Lord Agnew is expected to leave the Department for Education according to reports from Schools Week.

Confirmation of his departure is expected today.

A cabinet reshuffle this week saw Education Secretary Gavin Williamson reappointed, alongside Schools Minister Nick Gibb. It is unclear whether Lord Agnew’s departure is part of this reshuffle or whether he has resigned.

Lord Agnew has championed the Academies system and promoted efficiency and cost saving schemes which proved controversial. Lord Agnew is also leading on the Opportunity North East programme.

Whether the move is the result of a change in policy focus, or the intention of reinvigorating the academies programme is uncertain.

In other news Baroness Elizabeth Berridge has been appointed parliamentary under secretary of state in the Department for Education.

Regional Links w/c 10/02/20

This Sunderland primary school is expanding – so it can take an extra 20 pupils (Chronicle Live)

Gateshead College set to be downgraded by Ofsted from ‘outstanding’ to ‘requires improvement’ (Chronicle Live)

‘Trendy lefties’ accused of holding back white boys from poorer backgrounds in school (Chronicle Live)

Autistic boy with serious health issues forced to be home schooled as ‘no school in Durham’ suitable

Duchess helps fly the flag at Northumberland school (Northumberland Gazette)

Coquet schools receive funds from Freemasons (Northumberland Gazette)

Academies Trust school uniforms made of half a million plastic bottles (Northumberland Gazette)

Darlington students discuss knife crime in debate competition (Northumberland Gazette)

Durham student cracks code for girls in science (Northumberland Gazette)

Pooch spreads joy during reading sessions at St Andrew’s School, in Bishop Auckland (Northumberland Gazette)

Darlington Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form staff on strike (Northumberland Gazette)

Council increases number of special needs schools (Darlington and Stockton Times)

South Tyneside school children off to London as film club up for national award at ceremony hosted by David Walliams (The South Shields Gazette)

Should free school meals be available to every child? One council is pushing for it (The South Shields Gazette)

DfE reports falling teacher numbers

Employment in the education sector is expected to continue to fall for at least the next two years according to The Working Futures 2017-2027 report.

The report suggests falls of 0.3% annually which is equivalent to around 13,000 teachers leaving each year. This is compared to the 9,000 more teachers the DfE claimed it would need to recruit by 2025 to deal with rising pupil numbers in secondary schools.

This comes after last week’s statement from the Education Secretary at the Schools North East Academies Conference, that ‘in many schools one of the big problems school leaders face, particularly here in the North East, is that they do not have enough teachers, especially in certain subjects.’

Mr Williamson went on to mention some of the recruitment and retention strategies for the region such as piloting the Early Career Framework, as well as incentives for STEM teachers.

Support for teachers at every level of the profession is recommendation #8 of the Manifesto for North East Education. Schools North East will continue to call on policymakers and politicians to appropriately support recruitment and retention in the region.

What do the School Performance tables show?

The revised Key Stage 4 performance tables for 2019 have sparked a number of different headlines in terms of what the results claim to show. 

The most important takeaway for schools in the region is that the tables continue to use Progress 8 as a measure, contributing to the ongoing and pervasive false narrative around under-performing schools in the region. There continues to be a lack of nuance in the conversations around school performance, and the use of reporting measures which do not look at the context schools are working in.

FFT Datalab has highlighted how the data continues to show a North-South divide, as it uses Progress 8 rather than Contextualised Progress 8 scores, which take into account the percentage of pupils with a first language other than English, the percentage of pupils eligible for Pupil Premium, and the average Key Stage 2 point score of the cohort.

Using Progress 8 alone as a measure fails to take into account pupil characteristics such as the level of deprivation students in the North East face. When looking at Progress 8 without this context, the North continues to underperform in comparison to other regions. 

However, FFT Datalab shows when deprivation is taken into account using Contextualised Progress 8 scores, the North East performs at least as well the rest of the country, if not better. 

Furthermore, using the DfEs ‘attainment gap index’, the data shows that the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has increased for the second year. Though this is marginal, it does show a stall over the last few years in what had previously been a steady rate of decline.

Chris Zarraga, Director of Schools North East said ‘the latest figures continue to contribute to a pervasive myth that schools and students in the north, and the North East in particular, are underperforming and this is simply not true. School Performance tables should be based on contextualised data in order to better see how students and schools are performing in line with their context.’ 

Once again, girls outperform boys, a trend that has now continued for 30 years. This year saw 64% of girls passing GCSE English and Maths while only 56% of boys do so.

In other headlines, figures have suggested that MATs achieve on average lower Progress 8 scores than other school types. However, due to the eligibility of inclusion in the data, this only takes into account 24% of secondary academies and 36% of primary academies. The national Progress 8 score for those eligible was -0.02, compared to 0.01 for maintained schools. The tendency for academies to take on struggling schools may go towards explaining this small difference.

Regional Links w/c 3/2/20

The best performing schools for GCSEs in the North East revealed (Chronicle Live)

Free cycle training for every child as Government increases Bikeability spending (Chronicle Live)

New school uniform law could see parents save hundreds of pounds kitting out kids (Chronicle Live)

Newcastle education boss slammed for being ‘unable or unwilling’ to answer questions on city schools (Chronicle Live)

Children who thought lions were from UK double their wildlife knowledge (Northern Echo)

Little Inventors competition sees Teesside ideas made a reality (Northern Echo)

Former headteacher goes back to Norton school to celebrate 100th birthday (Northern Echo)

Burns Day celebrations prove a hit at Northumberland primary school (Northumberland Gazette)

South Shields primary school choir wows judges to win top title at Durham Cathedral competition (South Shields Gazette)

Academies Conference 2020

Over 250 academy leaders heard from the Education Secretary, the Rt Hon Gavin Williamson, at the Schools North East Academies Conference on 30 January in Newcastle upon Tyne, with academy leaders from nearly every Multi Academy Trust in the region attending. 

We were delighted to welcome the Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Gavin Williamson, as keynote speaker at the event. Mr Williamson emphasised the importance of providing high quality education across the country, saying that he was impressed by the collaboration between schools that took place in the North East, whether this be through the work of MATs or the fact that Schools North East continues to be the only regional network of schools. Reiterating the importance of Opportunity North East and the ONE vision schools, he announced the publication of the Opportunity North East delivery plan.

Following on from Gavin Williamson, Leora Cruddas, CEO of the Confederation of School Trusts spoke to delegates. She emphasised a need to change the current narrative of school trusts as ‘a privatisation of the education system’ to one of education charities that run schools. Echoing the Education Secretary, she spoke of the role of MATs in collaboration between schools, driving up academic standards. She argued that the most successful school trusts were those that were focussed on the front line of education.

Delegates had the opportunity to attend breakout sessions throughout the day, with a range of sessions specific to school leaders as well as CFOs and SBMs. Speakers included CEOs of MATs sharing their expertise on leadership and culture, as well as other professionals from the education sector and related organisations exploring the operational management of school trusts. The message throughout was that when making these management decisions, the quality of education provided to pupils must be the main consideration.

Later in the day Emma Ing, Ofsted regional director for the North East, Yorkshire and Humber spoke to the whole conference about the challenges children face in the region as they move from primary to secondary schools. She also discussed the new inspection framework, and how the previous framework had led to a narrowing of the curriculum which negatively affected disadvantaged children the most. 

The final keynote speaker of the day was David Weston, CEO of the Teacher Development Trust. With reference to the recently released NFER research on teacher autonomy, he discussed how school leaders could best improve CPD and develop teacher job satisfaction. Speaking about the importance of professional development he emphasised that attending a conference is not enough on it’s own, ‘it’s what you do with what you bring back that counts’. 

At Schools North East, we couldn’t agree more, and we want to hear if you have started to implement or change anything in your school because of one of our events, no matter how big or small. If your attendance at one of our events has or will potentially make a difference at your school let us know.

Opportunity North East delivery plan released

A year after the initial announcement of the Opportunity North East programme, the delivery plan for the £24 million investment in the region has been finalised. 

The Secretary of State for Education chose the Schools North East Academies Conference at St James Park to publish the Opportunity North East (ONE) delivery plan setting out a series of ambitions to deliver on the programme’s long-term commitment to boost social mobility and tap into the potential of young people in the region.

Alongside bespoke improvement plans for the 28 ONE Vision schools, and structured training and support for teachers at the start of their careers through the Early Career Framework, schools will benefit from:

  • funding transition projects to ensure pupils are supported when they move from primary to secondary school, so that more pupils continue to achieve well into secondary school. Projects include implementing a consistent evidence-based approach to reading comprehension and joining up the curriculum across phases. 
  • offering professional development for maths teachers and support to maths departments to improve the quality of maths teaching in the region
  • funding the region’s Local Enterprise Partnerships to deliver an enhanced offer of careers and business engagement support for ONE Vision schools
  • expanding the work of the North East Collaborative Outreach Programme to more schools to deliver a targeted programme of interventions for young people to help them explore their future options.

Targets for the project have also been developed, to be delivered before 2022. In the next two years the aim is to see:

  • pupils involved in transition projects to make greater progress during year 7 and 8
  • all ONE Vision schools meeting the national average Progress 8 score and are on the path to be judged at least ‘Good’ by Ofsted
  • all ONE Vision schools meeting all 8 Gatsby ‘Good Career Guidance Benchmarks’
  • an increase in the rate of North East applicants and entry to Higher Education Institutions beyond the national rate of increase.

Director of Schools North East, Chris Zarraga is a member of the ONE Strategic Board, ensuring that the views of North East school leaders are represented on the programme. 

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.