New Onward research: Lost Learning

2021-06-25T05:30:02+00:00 June 24th, 2021|Levelling Up, Onward, Research|

Today we publish the latest report in our Levelling Up research programme, Lost Learning: Why we need to level up education, by Francesca Fraser and Samuel Skerritt.

The report, produced in partnership with New Schools Network, exposes that even before the coronavirus crisis, there were vast geographical inequalities in a child’s access to a good education. It therefore argues that this Government’s efforts to level up opportunity will founder unless ministers take sustained action to turn around failing schools in many of the poorest parts of England.

Read the report

Despite a decade of bold education reforms, many of the places with the weakest local economies also suffer from stubbornly underperforming schools and fragile education systems. The report finds:

  • Primary pupils in Yorkshire and the Humber, East Midlands, and the South West are 12 times as likely to live in a local authority with an above-average share of pupils attending an underperforming school, compared to their counterparts in London.
  • Over 200,000 primary age children every year grow up in local areas where there are no Good or Outstanding schools at all, meaning they have limited or no access to a decent education, these ‘deserts’ of good schools were particularly concentrated in Wellingborough, Cambridge, Ipswich and Scarborough.
  • Secondary pupils in the North are five times more likely than those in the Greater South East to live in a local authority with an above-average share of underperforming school places. 
  • Some local authorities, such as Nottingham, Knowsley, North East Lincolnshire, Kingston upon Hull, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, ranked in the worst decile of areas for GCSE attainment since 1998 and remain there today, despite two decades of education reform to improve lagging areas. Meanwhile, places such as Dorset and Derbyshire, both identified having poor access to Good or Outstanding schools, have been on a steady downward trajectory – both dropping more than 70 places when ranked nationally.

The report attempts to understand what is driving this underperformance. Amongst a range of other factors, it highlights deprivation and access to strong teaching and leadership as determinants of success. 

  • Schools rated as outstanding by Ofsted take on the lowest share of pupils eligible for free school meals and are consistently located in the least deprived areas. 34% of Outstanding secondary schools were in the least deprived quintile as of 2019, compared to only 4% of Inadequate schools.
  • There is evidence to suggest that admission policies are augmenting this. Even when comparing similarly income deprived areas, outstanding schools take on the lowest percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals, suggesting their strong results may reflect their pupil intake rather than quality of education. 
  • Meanwhile the regions that tend to have more underperforming schools also tend to have higher vacancy rates, for example in secondary schools the North East averages highest (0.8%), and weaker leadership as assessed by Ofsted. 

In order to rectify these inequalities, we put forward a series of recommendations to improve accountability and to encourage leaders of school improvement into the places that need the most support. Key recommendations include: 

  1. Radical steps to help the best multi-academy trusts (MAT) to expand and to restrict expansion among underperforming chains. The Government should ask Ofsted to rank every MAT on its ability to turnaround underperforming schools and only allow the highest ranking MATs to expand, with generous funding reintroduced to encourage them to expand into areas with low levels of good school access or to take on stuck schools.
  2. Close down long-term underperforming schools and replace them with a new wave of “Phoenix Schools”, built on the free school model. Where schools have received countless interventions, including new headteachers and efforts to re-broker, with little evidence of progress, ministers should be prepared to close the school and replace it with a new one. This should be funded through a new wave of free schools, with accomplished MATs encouraged to take over.
  3. Replace Opportunity Areas with an intensive programme of intervention to boost attainment to the national average within 5 years. These interventions should include funding Multi-Academy Trusts to take on a cluster of underperforming schools, closing down long-term underperforming schools and replacing them with “Phoenix Schools”, and the rollout of intensive tutoring and knowledge based curriculum materials in every school in the local area.
  4. Improve teacher quality in underperforming areas by paying outstanding teachers £10,000 extra a year to move to underperforming schools to teach. This £10,000 per year annual stipend would be available for up to 200 places each year, and require teachers to move from an Outstanding school to one rated Inadequate or Requiring Improvement and stay for a minimum of three years. The Government should also introduce a Queen’s Award for Education to recognise educational excellence. 
  5. Ask Ofsted to take account of the progress of disadvantaged pupils in school inspections. The Government should urge Ofsted to take account of the results of FSM pupils in inspections so that it is harder to become outstanding without supporting disadvantaged pupils to improve and to remove incentives to offroll or restrict FSM pupils from enrolling. Ofsted should use their renewed oversight of Outstanding schools, granted by the new inspection framework, to do this.

The report has been backed by a large number of MPs and leading educators, including:

Martyn Oliver, CEO of Outwood Grange Academies Trust, said:

“This report contains the ambitious and bold plans that are necessary for us to not only build back stronger but to level-up our education system. All children, everywhere, deserve an excellent education: it is in everyone’s interest that we succeed in this national priority.”

Lucy Heller, Chief Executive of Ark, said:

“This report sets out a strong and clear case for significant investment in education with a particular focus on improving outcomes for the most disadvantaged. Government would be wise to consider seriously its recommendations.”

Katharine Birbalsingh, Headmistress of Michaela Community School, said:

“A fascinating analysis of how schools enable social mobility, with suggestions on how to make this happen everywhere.”

Jonathan Gullis MP, MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, said:

“In my constituency, there is only one outstanding secondary school and this is reflected in Progress 8 scores being the seventh lowest in the country.

“If we are to successfully give young people the opportunities they deserve, we must start with providing them with a brilliant education in the place they call home.

“The recommendations within this report would go a long way to direct the leaders in school improvement into the places which have previously been home to entrenched underperformance.”

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