Need to know: Northern schools fight back

School leaders hoping to put their region on the education map with a summit this week

John Roberts

Schools NorthEast is holding a summit this week

In days gone by, when Ofsted’s chief inspector turned their attention to the North of England it was to deliver a damning verdict on a so-called North-South divide in standards.

But a body representing headteachers across the North East is trying to draw attention to education in the region for the right reasons.

There were signs this week that the government has started to listen. And could having Amanda Spielman as the keynote speaker among a host of big names at Thursday’s Schools NorthEast summit be a sign of further success?

Here is everything you need to know.

What is Schools NorthEast?

Schools NorthEast is the only school-led regional network in the country.

It was set up by a group of heads in the North East of England 10 years ago as a way of allowing schools to collaboration and provide support.

But it has grown beyond that to become a major player in promoting the importance of the region to decision-makers in education.

Getting Westminster’s attention?

Schools NorthEast has been questioning why the Government has not created an Opportunity Area in the North East of England, since they were first launched in 2016. These areas were the former education secretary Justine Greening’s vision for promoting social mobility in areas where outcomes were poor for young people from deprived backgrounds.

Opportunity Areas have been focused on local education authority areas. The Government gave each of the 12 areas selected a share in £72m funding.   Ministers chose areas in the North including Blackpool, Bradford and the North Yorkshire coast to receive this funding but the North East has missed out until now.

This week the DfE appear to have gone one better by announcing £24m for a new Opportunity North East programme across the entire region. The money is to be spent on teacher training and raising standards in schools.

Schools NorthEast director Mike Parker has welcomed the funding but warned that the programme needs to identify how to engage with communities in the North East in order for it to be a success.

Geography matters

Mr Parker who has been keen to highlight the different challenges faced by schools in his region and to impress on decision makers how policies can have a different impact in schools hundreds of miles away from London.

This is best illustrated by the case of  Haydon Bridge School in Northumberland whose catchment area is so big that if it was placed in London it would cover more than 300 secondary schools.

In this environment, the multi-academy trust model has not grown as quickly as elsewhere.

Only two trusts have 10 or more schools, and some 44 academies in the North East are single academy trusts.

Ofsted calling

Amanda Spielman’s keynote speech follows a tumultuous few weeks for both her and the organisation she leads.

Both have been criticised by the Public Accounts Committee, Ofsted has faced calls for it to be abolished by the NEU teaching union and leading headteachers have urged the inspectorate to pause its plans for a radical shake-up of the inspection framework – amid fears that it will add to teachers’ workload.

The inspectorate shows no signs of stepping back from its plans of changing the inspection framework to give a greater focus to the way school’s design and deliver their curriculum.

Heads will be listening for further insights from Ms Spielman on how this new model will work and what it will mean for their schools.


One issue which has attracted Ofsted’s attention in the North East is fixed-term exclusions.

Earlier this year Cathryn Kirby, the inspectorate’s regional director for the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber,  wrote to headteachers warning that exclusion rates are among the highest in the country in eight of the local authorities covered by the region – with Middlesbrough highest and Redcar and Cleveland in the top five.

More free schools for the North?

Mark Lehain, the interim director of the New Schools Network and director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence, will speak about new schools and the North East.

The next wave of free schools is expected to be increasingly focused on the North and the Midlands.

And earlier this year, Mr Lehain told Tes that the New Schools Network was actively looking to identify groups who could support the creation of new schools in the North. There are currently no parent-led free schools open in the North East.

Teacher recruitment and much more

Russell Hobby, the chief executive of Teach First will deliver a session on recruiting, rewarding and retaining teachers to help school leaders in the North East find solutions to the national teacher shortage.

There are also panels on inclusion, behaviour, driving up standards while reducing workload and inspirational talk by Casper Craven.

The North East is often referred to as one of the country's footballing hotbeds and the conference on Thursday is taking place at Newcastle United's St James’ Park Stadium.   

Organisers hope they can also put education in the North East in the national spotlight.



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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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