Northern schools greatly underfunded despite high levels of disadvantage, says leading think tank

A new study is urging the Government to allocate greater funding to secondary schools in the North through a new national funding formula.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) North has echoed previous calls by SCHOOLS NorthEast for policy makers to take the opportunity given by the reforming of the funding formula to boost budgets, as northern secondary schools are on average funded £1,300 less per pupil compared to those in London, despite the high levels of disadvantage.

The IPPR report, commissioned by Teach First, also shows that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds in the North are lagging behind compared to their peers in the rest of the country. It suggests that weak GCSE results in northern schools will have a negative impact on the Government’s Northern Powerhouse project, echoing Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comments earlier this year that the Northern Powerhouse will “sputter and die” if the issue of underperforming schools is not tackled effectively.

Speaking to Schools Week, Director of SCHOOLS NorthEast Mike Parker explained the issue of geographical disparity in funding:  “The current average funding nationally equates to £4,732 per pupil – but in the City of London it is as high as £8,595. The average for the North East is £4,616.

“The current schools funding formula is broken. If North East schools were funded at the same level as London schools we would have an additional £360m per year to spend on education.”

He added that national parity would be equivalent to an extra £45.6m for the region.

“The government is adding in an area cost adjustment where they work out on a per pupil basis where the money should go and then multiply in areas of high cost,” he said.

“We recognise that it can be expensive for schools in expensive areas to recruit teacher, but to us that it a blunt approach, because it is quite difficult to recruit teachers into geographically remote area too, but we don’t get any extra funding for that.

“Money alone doesn’t equate to achievement – but it certainly helps.”

Mr Parker quoted figures from analysis of school funding in the region conducted by SCHOOLS NorthEast, available to read here. SCHOOLS NorthEast also submitted a response to the Government consultation on the new funding formula, which you can access here.

Jonathan Clifton, Associate Director at IPPR, added: “Two decades ago London was the worst place to attend school if you were from a low income background, now London’s disadvantaged pupils achieve better outcomes than those in other parts of the country.

“The successful turnaround of London’s schools shows that educational disadvantage can be tackled though investment, strong leadership and collaboration.

“We need a similar level ambition for schools in the North. Smart policy and fair funding from government could transform children’s prospects and help build the northern powerhouse.”

Further reading:

Northern secondary schools receive £1,300 less per pupil than London (The Guardian)

Call for more school funding to help northern schools (Schools Week)

Tackle pupil attainment gap in northern England, IPPR urges (BBC)

Future of education – white paper and academisation

Nearly 300 school leaders from across the North East gathered together this week to understand the current direction of education policy.

The White Paper and academisation: implications and options conference organised by SCHOOLS NorthEast saw a range of education experts give top quality independent and impartial advice in order to help delegates make the right decisions for their schools.

SCHOOLS NorthEast Chair and Head Teacher of St John Vianney Catholic Primary School in Hartlepool John Hardy chaired the event and started the day by making it clear that SCHOOLS NorthEast is a network for all schools in the region, regardless of type.


Jonathan Clifton, a former DfE adviser and current education lead at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), gave the keynote speech providing an overview of the white paper and the direction of Government policy.

edit IMG_2650.jpgMr Clifton pointed out that the latest Government announcement that schools will not be forced to convert is “not a U-turn, just shades of grey. The Government retains its ambition to see every school become an academy and for most of them to join a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT), but it won’t force conversion. But if local authorities are underperforming or financially unviable, schools will be converted.”

He added: “Don’t rush, but also don’t bury your head in the sand. The Government has a clear vision.”

The IPPR Associate Director for Public Services also looked at options for collaborative working and shared  useful case studies as examples of different types of school partnerships.

Conversion experts went through the nuts and bolts of the process for our delegates, offering valuable advice and top tips. Our speakers explained conversion matters to do with HR, finance, governance and the legal side. Many thanks to Jill Donabie (Muckle LLP), Bill Dennison (National Leader of Governance), Chris Beaumont (Clive Owen LLP) and Julie Sowerby (Avec Partnership) for taking part in our panel of experts and delivering this session.

Chair of the Education Funding Agency advisory group Les Walton CBE gave an entertaining and enlightening talk on the role of the agency.

Delegates also received valuable first hand knowledge and advice shared by school leaders who have already gone through the conversion process and examples of collaboration in the region. The workshops included topics such as Academy conversion: what I wish I’d known first, Collaboration without academisation and Exploring partnership models looking at same-phase and cross-phase options, as well as joining established trusts.

All presentations used during the conference throughout all sessions can be viewed here.

Due to overwhelming demand, SCHOOLS NorthEast will be holding a second White Paper and academisation conference on Tuesday 14 June at the Durham Centre. Click here for more information or email to book your place. 


Government uncompromising on school attendance rules after father’s term-time holiday win

The Government will seek “whatever measures necessary” to maintain strict no term-time holiday rules , after a father who took his daughter on a term-time holiday won a case against the school, and the subsequent appeal made by the local authority.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb told the House of Commons that the ruling in favour of the parent represented a “significant threat” to improving school attendence and that the Government will do “everything in its power” to ensure children are kept in school: “The house should be assured that we will seek whatever measures necessary to give schools and local authorities the power and clarity to ensure that children attend schools when they should.”

The court ruled that the family would not have to pay the fine due to their child’s otherwise ‘regular attendance record’.

Head Teachers have the authority to grant leave for up to 10 days under “special circumstances”, but Chair of the Education Select Committee Neil Carmichael said more clarity is needed in defining what counts as a special circumstance.

Continue reading “Government uncompromising on school attendance rules after father’s term-time holiday win”

‘Rogue marker’ leaked Sats test paper the day before exams

And in this week’s episode of The Thick Of It…

The Department for Education is blaming a “rogue marker” for leaking the spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPAG) tests to The Guardian, after the paper was mistakenly uploaded onto a password-protected website.

The test answers, which was taken on Tuesday by children aged 10 to 11 in England, were published by the test supplier, Pearson, on a secure platform for test markers.

Pearson apologised for the problem and said it was investigating it. According to Chief Executive John Fallon, 102 markers had seen the paper in the four hours it was available:  “A small number of markers accessed the paper, although as contracted markers they are bound by confidentiality and have a duty not to share any papers.We do not have any evidence that the content of the paper has been compromised.”

21481962596_53121e5577_mOn Tuesday, Schools Minister Nick Gibb addressed parliament about the leaked tests and announced that the SPAG exam would go ahead because it was not shared online or in the press: “The Key Stage 2 test remains valid and is going ahead as planned.

“The journalist in question took the decision not to publish the test papers and I am grateful to him for that.”

Opposition MPs also raised concerns regarding the Key Stage 1 tests that were accidentally published as a practice paper, stating that the Government has “taken its eye off the ball, obsessing over flawed forced academisation plan” and that the exam chaos in the past month has caused a “damaging fall in confidence among parents and teachers about the reliability and validity of testing in schools”.

A DfE spokeman said: “We are aware that Pearson, the external marking supplier responsible for Key Stage 2 tests, published the Key Stage 2 grammar, punctuation and spelling test on its secure marker site for a short period of time.”

“The site can only be accessed by Pearson’s approved markers, all of whom are under secure contract. Any distribution of materials constitutes a clear breach of that contract.”

SCHOOLS NorthEast announces Ofsted Summer Term briefings

SCHOOLS NorthEast has set up a series of termly events with Ofsted to support schools in the region to stay current on all information regarding inspections. Each event will include a general update, followed by further discussion on a particular theme.

Our summer term briefings will include a focussed discussion around meeting SEND requirements. There will also be contributions from North East Head Teachers who have recently been inspected under the new framework.

The three Summer events will take place on:

Central region
Date: Wednesday 6 July 2016
Time: 14:00 – 16:00
Venue: The Durham Centre, Belmont Industrial Estate, Durham, DH1 1TN

South of the region
Date: Thursday 7 July 2016
Time: 09:30 – 11:30
Venue: Inspire2 Learn, Normanby Road, South Bank, Middlesbrough, TS6 9AE

North of the region
Date: Thursday 7 July 2016
Time: 14:00 – 16:00
Venue: The Northumberland Church of England Academy, Academy Road, Ashington NE63 9FZ

These events are open to delegates from schools across the region. The cost of attendance is £15+VAT per delegate. Partner Schools receive a discounted rate of £10+VAT.

To book your place, please email Please indicate which event you would like to attend.


The Ofsted Spring Term briefings were attended by more than 150 delegates from across the region who heard from Her Majesty’s Inspectors David Brown, Joan Hewitt and Belita Scott. You can read a round-up of what was discussed during the briefings here and here.


“Shambolic” education u-turns distracting North East schools from raising standards

Department for Education fast becoming “Ministry of Mass Confusion” after series of gaffes and u-turns

Plans to force the conversion of all schools to academy status have today been abandoned by the Government.


SCHOOLS NorthEast, the representative body for all 1,250 schools across the region, today welcomed the Government’s decision to abandon forced academisation. The regional schools network warned the Education Secretary that the turmoil is unsettling schools that are already facing widespread changes in curriculum and assessment.

SCHOOLS NorthEast Director, Mike Parker, said: “The past few weeks have been nothing short of shambolic. We have seen Sats tests thrown into absolute chaos by leaked papers, parental boycotts, a backtracking on reception assessments due to comparability issues that had been flagged to the Government before, and now a U-turn on the most significant element of the education white paper. The Department for Education is at risk of becoming the Ministry of Mass Confusion.

“The Department has set the education system in a flat spin and has distracted Head Teachers from focusing on raising standards within their schools. The Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, needs to get a grip on this situation and instil stability in the system or our children’s education will suffer.”

The Government issued a statement stressing its commitment to see all schools become academies in the next six years, but stated that ‘blanket conversion’ legislation does not need to be introduced in order to achieve this.

SCHOOLS NorthEast has called on the Government to provide additional clarity regarding the circumstances that might, in light of these recent changes, trigger forced academisation.

Mr Parker added: “There is no clear picture of what these changes mean for the North East. The Government is still set on delivering their academisation promise, but through other means. We want to know what that entails and which areas in our region will be at risk.”

SCHOOLS NorthEast will be seeking further clarification from the Department for Education.

North East MPs grill Nicky Morgan over academy plans

The Education Secretary defended government plans for academisation to two North East MPs who challenged the Department’s decision to “inflict” it on all schools.


Nicky Morgan faced the Education Select Committee on Wednesday, answering questions about the Department’s White Paper proposals.

Committee member and MP for Gateshead Ian Mearns pressed for an explanation as to why schools that are already Good or Outstanding, and that work collaboratively within the Local Authority area – such as those in his constituency – will be forced to become academies. Mrs Morgan argued: “I don’t think it’s a question of inflicting anything on anybody. I think it is a question of offering people the opportunity to be autonomous and run themselves.”

Mr Mearns added that in 2014 the Education Secretary said she was not a “forcing type of person” and asked what had changed in the meantime. Mrs Morgan reiterated her plans to build a consistent system, adding that parts of the country are still not good enough: “We will never sit back and say education is sorted!”.

Continue reading “North East MPs grill Nicky Morgan over academy plans”

Achieving Excellence Areas – implications for the North East

The DfE set out plans in its white paper Educational Excellence Everywhere to prioritise support to a number of areas of the country where “low standards are exacerbated by a lack of capacity to drive improvement”.


Using a mix of indicators, the Department has identified 53 local authority districts in England where standards and capacity make it least likely that the “school-led system (can) deliver rapid and sustainable improvement”.

The Government plans to inject extra support into a number of these areas to drive up standards.

In the North East, Middlesbrough and Northumberland were given a composite score of 6 – identifying them as the parts of the region most in need of external support to improve.

SCHOOLS NorthEast Director Mike Parker participated in a workshop at the Department for Education to fine tune the current methodology.

Continue reading “Achieving Excellence Areas – implications for the North East”

Fears for funding in North East schools if new national formula weights in favour of South

Schools are urging the Government to rethink their approach to school funding, or education in the North East will suffer under new, “fairer” arrangements. 

snelogoPlans for a new formula that will replace legacy funding which saw schools in the North East worse off by £45m, were announced by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement.

SCHOOLS NorthEast, the representative body for all 1,250 schools across the region, welcomed the move to a national funding formula, but it has raised concerns that the Government’s planned approach will not get money into schools that need it the most.

Under new plans, the Government intends to pay schools on a per pupil basis with the total amount calculated based on 11 different factors such as low prior attainment, deprivation and sparsity. But, it then intends to add a multiplier effect – an area cost adjustment – to give more money to schools in high cost areas so they can pay teachers more.

The Department for Education’s consultation on the plans explained: “We believe the national funding formula should use an area cost adjustment to reflect variation in labour market costs, given the significance of such costs to school spending.”

Responding to the consultation, SCHOOLS North East urged the Government to remove the area cost adjustment because the rationale was flawed and that it would potentially encourage migration of teaching talent to areas with greater funding, in the midst of an already worrying recruitment crisis.

Continue reading “Fears for funding in North East schools if new national formula weights in favour of South”

A closer look at the Hartlepool girls tragedy

AWiddowsonAs the recent trial of two young girls from Hartlepool reached its conclusion, I have no doubt that many of you, like me, found yourselves examining the appalling details of the crime with a professional scrutiny.  Clues as to why it happened were easy to glean from the media reporting;  insights into how it might have been prevented were harder to come by.

The defence case drew upon a number of half-truths which will have come as no surprise to those who deal with children on a daily basis:

  • Firstly, they sought to blame it on We are told that both children came from “troubled” backgrounds and that the older girl came from a household in which domestic violence and anti-social behaviour was routine.
  • Secondly, they cited the impaired Processing powers of the children. The older girl’s defence claimed that she suffered from “abnormality of brain functioning”. Certainly it is true that the extraordinary naivety with which the girls ignored the evidence mounting against them in the public domain ( CCTV, Instagram images inside the house) indicates significant cognitive weakness.
  • Finally, for good measure, they threw in the impact of Peer-pressure, with each child attempting to lay the blame on the other. The younger child claimed to be a bystander, whilst the older child claimed that the younger girl was the dominant partner. The truth, as the jury concluded, was likely to have been a complex feedback loop in which each child’s actions fuelled the response from their partner.

I think we would all agree that these three factors undoubtedly played a significant part in the unfolding tragedy. However, to allow ourselves to hang the blame on these convenient pegs is to deny our responsibility, as a society, to monitor and take action where we see evidence that a child’s behaviour lies outside the normal parameters.

Continue reading “A closer look at the Hartlepool girls tragedy”