North Tyneside CouncilNorth Tyneside Council has written to the Secretary of State for Education to raise issues about the Government’s legislative plans around education. 

The open letter asks for clarification on a number of points which have emerged in the Government’s Education Excellence Everywhere White Paper and Education For All Bill, as announced in the Queen’s Speech.

It sets out the Government’s plans over the next five years to build on and extend educational reforms.

In the letter, Cllr Ian Grayson, North Tyneside Council’s cabinet member for children, young people and learning, raises concerns about Government proposals to convert schools into academies, particularly in high-performing areas like North Tyneside.

It comes as the borough’s primary schools are currently the best performing in the country outside of London, with 96 per cent rated good or outstanding by Ofsted.

Cllr Grayson writes: “Currently, 92 per cent of our young people attend a good or outstanding school and Ofsted have consistently highlighted the quality of education in our borough.

“Currently, there are three academies in North Tyneside, one 4-19, one secondary school and one primary school. You will therefore understand the concerns we have about the plans you have suggested in the White Paper and seem to be proposed for the Bill.

“While my colleagues and our education leaders welcome your decision to step back from compelling all schools to convert, it remains unclear what role you expect local authorities to take where they have delivered high quality outcomes but have a low level of academisation.

“In North Tyneside, we are faced with an emerging set of plans and proposals that still have the same end point in mind, the conversion of all of our schools to academies.”

The letter goes on to raise a number of other important issues, including:

School improvement:

How school improvement will actually work and whether Government officials have given enough consideration to “the absolute removal of the democratic mandate and local accountability for education in one place.”

Governance:

The loss of expertise of head teachers in the decision making process, which has been delegated to regional school commissioners.

Interaction between Academy Orders and Inspection:

The letter cites the example of Norham High School, which was rated inadequate.

Churchill Community College, an outstanding school, was asked to work with the local authority as well as a new leadership team at Norham.

The partnership has proved a success and the school is now improving but an Academy Order was served on the same day notification was given of an inspection, which might make the Academy Order unnecessary.

The council will be discussing what purpose the Academy Order serves with the regional schools commissioner but Cllr Grayson calls for “more thought to how officials use Academy Orders and how they coordinate with colleagues in Ofsted.

Language:

Concerns are raised in the letter about some of the language used by ministers when applied to a local area that does well.

It calls on the Secretary of State to acknowledge the good work that happens between local authorities and schools.

History:

Clarification is sought over a suggestion that “local authorities will step back and concentrate on their core functions.”

Cllr Grayson also calls on ministers working on the draft bill to consider the role of successful school and local authority partnerships and how that relationship can be developed.

The letter concludes: “North Tyneside Council has always paid the closest attention to the life chances of our young people; our educations leaders and elected members have worked together to build an education system to be proud of.

“I am deeply worried that the changes proposed by your Government will have a lasting and damaging impact on that success.”

The council is working with head teachers and chairs of governors regarding the issues raised in the letter and has invited the Secretary of State for Education to North Tyneside to meet local young people and discuss the concerns in more detail.