LEVELLING UP

Lost Learning

Understanding the disparity in educational opportunity across England and why we need a long-term plan to fix it.
Francesca Fraser
June 25, 2021
Lost Learning
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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.

Martyn Oliver, CEO of Outwood Grange Academies Trust

 

Over 200,000 primary age pupils live in areas where there are no Good or Outstanding schools

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.

This report exposes that even before the coronavirus crisis, there were vast geographical inequalities in a child’s access to a good education.  Working with the New Schools Network, we find that:

  • Over 200,000 primary age children live in ‘deserts’ of good schools, where every primary school is rated as Requiring Improvement or Inadequate by Ofsted.
  • 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.
  • Meanwhile, 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, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, have ranked in the bottom decile for GCSE attainment since 1998 and remain there today, despite two decades of education reform to improve lagging areas.

In attempting to understand what is driving this underperformance, we identify deprivation and access to strong teaching and leadership as strong  factors.

Schools rated outstanding consistently take on the least deprived pupils. 34% of Outstanding secondary schools were in the least deprived quintile as of 2019, compared to only 4% of Inadequate schools. Evidence suggests 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. 

In partnership with

Summary of recommendations

The challenge

The solution

In many places, parents have little choice but to send their children to Requiring Improvement or Inadequate schools.

Over 200,000 primary age children live in local areas where there are no good or outstanding schools and 11 out of 12 local authorities in the North East have a higher than average share of pupils attending an underperforming school.

There are places and schools which stubbornly underperform

Areas of stubborn school under performance are disproportionately in places that suffer other forms of disadvantage, such as deprivation or weak social fabric, and strongly correlate with other levelling up measures. There exists a large number of “stuck schools” which, despite repeated interventions, re-brokering and investment, have not been able to improve quality and continue to deprive pupils of the benefits of a great education.

The most underperforming schools suffer from numerous workforce issues

The best schools benefit from exceptional leadership and talented teachers. Underperforming schools, in contrast, are often characterised by high vacancy rates, low pupil-teacher ratios and high levels of teaching assistants. While no national data exists, there also appears to be wide variation in time spent in school.

The regions that tend to have more underperforming schools also have more vacancies, for example in secondary schools the North East has the greatest rate of vacancies at 0.8% and has the poorest leadership when assessed by Ofsted.

Deprivation continues to be a strong predictor of educational attainment

Despite numerous efforts to improve educational outcomes among disadvantaged pupils, most notably the pupil premium allowance, deprivation continues to be the biggest determinant of attainment and the disadvantage gap has remained the same since 2015.

Meanwhile, the Opportunity Areas programme has had limited effect, hampered by its limited scope of the toolkit used to deliver improvement.

We argue that the 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:

  1. The Government should mobilise Multi-Academy Trusts as the engine of school improvement by:
    • Benchmarking MATs on the basis of their track record at turning around underperforming schools.
    • Re-introducing generous additional funding for MATs to take over underperforming schools or to expand into areas with few or no good schools.
    • Allowing schools to leave their multi-academy trust to join a better suited MAT or spin out into their own MAT in limited circumstances.
    • Expanding the Curriculum Fund to encourage MATs to share their pedagogical approach to learning.
  2. The Government should take steps to reduce the barriers to re-brokering or closing down underperforming schools:
    • As a last resort, be prepared to close down stubbornly underperforming schools and fund a new wave of “Phoenix Schools” – using the free school model – to replace them.
    • Work to release underperforming schools from restrictive PFI contracts, where this is limiting their ability to attract a new sponsor.
  3. The Government should introduce direct incentives to improve the quality of teaching in the areas that need it most:
    • Encourage outstanding teachers to move to an underperforming school for a minimum of three years by introducing a £10,000 salary top up payment.
    • Introduce a “Teacher Premium” to be allocated per teacher in underperforming schools, to be spent on training and continuous professional development.
    • Review the use of supply teachers and teaching assistants by encouraging both maintained and academy schools to declare their relevant spending.
    • Introduce a Queen’s Award for Education for teachers and headteachers that produce exceptional educational results and promote social mobility.
    • Review the amount of time spent in school, with a view to increasing the length of the school day, shortening holidays and increasing the use of extracurricular activities in low cost ways.
  4. Ofsted should consider ways to improve accountability for schools and reduce gaming of the admission of disadvantaged pupils, by:
    • Considering how the current framework could better account for pupil characteristics, especially given renewed oversight of outstanding schools, marking up those that deliver disproportionate improvement for disadvantaged pupils.
    • Introducing stronger guidance around the use of Pupil Premium to ensure it is being spent on proven interventions, such as tutoring, with greater scrutiny of Pupil Premium spending in the inspection framework to encourage uptake.
  5. Instead of expanding the Opportunity Areas programme to new areas, ministers should:
    • Reform the programme to set a clear threshold for inclusion and to introduce much more direct intervention, including incentives for successful MATs to take on multiple schools, powers for Regional Schools Commissioners to intervene, and the rollout of knowledge rich curriculum practices throughout the local area.

Summary of recommendations

The challenge

In many places, parents have little choice but to send their children to Requiring Improvement or Inadequate schools.

Over 200,000 primary age children live in local areas where there are no good or outstanding schools and 11 out of 12 local authorities in the North East have a higher than average share of pupils attending an underperforming school.

There are places and schools which stubbornly underperform

Areas of stubborn school under performance are disproportionately in places that suffer other forms of disadvantage, such as deprivation or weak social fabric, and strongly correlate with other levelling up measures. There exists a large number of “stuck schools” which, despite repeated interventions, re-brokering and investment, have not been able to improve quality and continue to deprive pupils of the benefits of a great education.

The most underperforming schools suffer from numerous workforce issues

The best schools benefit from exceptional leadership and talented teachers. Underperforming schools, in contrast, are often characterised by high vacancy rates, low pupil-teacher ratios and high levels of teaching assistants. While no national data exists, there also appears to be wide variation in time spent in school.

The regions that tend to have more underperforming schools also have more vacancies, for example in secondary schools the North East has the greatest rate of vacancies at 0.8% and has the poorest leadership when assessed by Ofsted.

Deprivation continues to be a strong predictor of educational attainment

Despite numerous efforts to improve educational outcomes among disadvantaged pupils, most notably the pupil premium allowance, deprivation continues to be the biggest determinant of attainment and the disadvantage gap has remained the same since 2015.

Meanwhile, the Opportunity Areas programme has had limited effect, hampered by its limited scope of the toolkit used to deliver improvement.

The solution

We argue that the 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:

  1. The Government should mobilise Multi-Academy Trusts as the engine of school improvement by:
    • Benchmarking MATs on the basis of their track record at turning around underperforming schools.
    • Re-introducing generous additional funding for MATs to take over underperforming schools or to expand into areas with few or no good schools.
    • Allowing schools to leave their multi-academy trust to join a better suited MAT or spin out into their own MAT in limited circumstances.
    • Expanding the Curriculum Fund to encourage MATs to share their pedagogical approach to learning.
  2. The Government should take steps to reduce the barriers to re-brokering or closing down underperforming schools:
    • As a last resort, be prepared to close down stubbornly underperforming schools and fund a new wave of “Phoenix Schools” – using the free school model – to replace them.
    • Work to release underperforming schools from restrictive PFI contracts, where this is limiting their ability to attract a new sponsor.
  3. The Government should introduce direct incentives to improve the quality of teaching in the areas that need it most:
    • Encourage outstanding teachers to move to an underperforming school for a minimum of three years by introducing a £10,000 salary top up payment.
    • Introduce a “Teacher Premium” to be allocated per teacher in underperforming schools, to be spent on training and continuous professional development.
    • Review the use of supply teachers and teaching assistants by encouraging both maintained and academy schools to declare their relevant spending.
    • Introduce a Queen’s Award for Education for teachers and headteachers that produce exceptional educational results and promote social mobility.
    • Review the amount of time spent in school, with a view to increasing the length of the school day, shortening holidays and increasing the use of extracurricular activities in low cost ways.
  4. Ofsted should consider ways to improve accountability for schools and reduce gaming of the admission of disadvantaged pupils, by:
    • Considering how the current framework could better account for pupil characteristics, especially given renewed oversight of outstanding schools, marking up those that deliver disproportionate improvement for disadvantaged pupils.
    • Introducing stronger guidance around the use of Pupil Premium to ensure it is being spent on proven interventions, such as tutoring, with greater scrutiny of Pupil Premium spending in the inspection framework to encourage uptake.
  5. Instead of expanding the Opportunity Areas programme to new areas, ministers should:
    • Reform the programme to set a clear threshold for inclusion and to introduce much more direct intervention, including incentives for successful MATs to take on multiple schools, powers for Regional Schools Commissioners to intervene, and the rollout of knowledge rich curriculum practices throughout the local area.

The report was welcomed by a number of prominent education leaders:

Lucy Heller, Chief Executive of Ark:

“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:

“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:

“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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