South Tyneside identified as 'cold spot' for education under plans for schools in the area

The Government has announced 55 education "cold spots" in England that have been identified as part of the levelling-up agenda – and South Tyneside is on the list.

Areas where education outcomes are weakest will be targeted for support, with teachers offered a "levelling-up premium" to improve retention.

Schools in the Education Investment Areas which are judged less than "good" by Ofsted in successive inspections could be moved into multi-academy trusts under the plans.

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The New "Education Investment Areas" will be prioritised as the location for specialist sixth form-free schools, the Government's Levelling Up White Paper will say on Wednesday.

The Government says it is aiming to level-up education.

Several North East areas are on the list, including South Tyneside, County Durham, Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough and Sunderland.

However, a headteachers’ union as warned the plans for "elite" sixth form-free schools in disadvantaged areas could help pupils who are already high-achieving.

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"We are not so sure about the idea of setting up 'new elite sixth forms'. This sounds like they will serve children who already do very well and could put pressure on existing provision when the simplest solution would surely be to improve the lamentable state of post-16 funding," Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said.

The Department for Education said that as "95% of the identified areas are outside London and the South East, it is the struggling schools of the North, Midlands, East of England and South West that will be receiving much more support over the next decade".

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The DfE confirmed teachers would be offered a "levelling up premium" to improve retention, while £200million would be assigned to the Government's Troubled Families programme, as announced last year in the Spending Review.

The paper will say that schools in the 55 areas that have been judged less than "good" in successive Ofsted inspections "could be moved into strong multi-academy trusts, to attract more support and the best teachers".

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This will be subject to a consultation in the spring, the DfE said.

It will also set a target of 90% of pupils leaving primary school in England to reach the expected standard of reading, writing and maths in 2030.

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"In 2019, just 65% of pupils met all three standards, with the proportion substantially varying across the country," the DfE said.

Schools in the areas will be supported to address other issues such as attendance and will be "encouraged" to join a new pilot programme to monitor this.

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Out of the 55 areas, 12 are local authorities containing Opportunity Areas created by former education secretary Justine Greening.

Mr Barton said: "We share the Government's ambition to improve numeracy, literacy and therefore the life chances among the one-third of young people who need more support.

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He added that it was "slightly infuriating" that the Government "insists on talking about illiteracy and innumeracy".

"These children are not illiterate or innumerate and it is somewhat insulting to describe them as such. They just fall below the expected standard at primary school against a specific set of tests," he said.

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Mr Barton said the children did need more support but that he was unsure the White Paper achieved this, as the most disadvantaged pupils needed help that went "beyond the school gates" to address poverty, while there was a "crying need" for better funding for pupils with special educational needs.

"There's much food for thought in the outline of the Government's White Paper, but the devil will, as ever, be in the detail. Identifying 55 communities for intensive additional support sounds promising and we look forward to seeing exactly how this will work," he added.

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"The idea of moving schools judged less than good in successive Ofsted inspections into multi-academy trusts sounds a little like the defunct 'coasting schools' policy that the Department for Education jettisoned a few years ago," he said.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: "The most valuable resource on the planet is the human resource.

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"Investing in people to get on in life and receive the best possible education is core to the mission of this Government, and we are determined to help people gain the knowledge and skills needed to unleash their potential.

"This White Paper sets out our blueprint for putting skills, schools and families at the heart of levelling up. It focuses on putting great schools in every part of the country, training that sets you up for success in a high-skilled, well-paid career and ensuring no-one misses out on opportunities simply because of where they live or their family background.

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"Raising our expectations and aspirations for children, as well as creating a high-skilled workforce, will end the brain drain that sees too many people leaving communities in order to succeed.

"These plans will help create a level playing field and boost the economy, both locally and nationally."

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Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said that "many of the areas now targeted for support have been among the hardest hit by education cuts over the last decade - on the Government's own watch, and entirely of its own making".

"The sums being promised will not make up for what has been cut. If the Government was serious about levelling up education, then it would restore all the money it has cut from these schools," he added.

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Natalie Perera, chief executive of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said: "Targeted investment for those areas of the country with high levels of educational inequality will be key to the Government's efforts - we know from our research that very large education gaps are deeply entrenched in parts of the North and Midlands, and pupils in these areas have also seen far greater levels of learning loss following the pandemic.

"It will be important to closely scrutinise the criteria used by the Government for selecting its 'Education Investment Areas', and how it intends to deliver 'intensive' support over so many areas.

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"The adoption of our recommendation for retention payments for teachers in challenging areas is encouraging. One of the greatest challenges in education is ensuring that highly qualified teachers are available to schools in deprived parts of the country. Severe teacher shortages remain in subjects such as maths and physics, with teachers in these areas far less likely to have a degree in the subject that they teach.

"It is essential that the Government's plans for these areas follow policy interventions on school improvement that are proven to work, and support is also offered to pupils beyond the school gates, to families and within the community. Without a sound evidence base and sufficient resources, the Government's ambitious plans to level up may fail to get off the ground."

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