Secondary schools in a social mobility cold spot are using government funding to appoint senior leaders to help cope with the “millions of programmes” being thrown at them.
Norwich was named in 2016 as one of the DfE’s first Opportunity Areas, receiving a share of £72 million to bring together schools, colleges, universities, early years providers and employers to improve the life chances of disadvantaged children.
However, it has emerged that secondaries in the city asked to use some of the money to appoint extra members to their senior leadership teams because they were “drowned in good ideas”.
The news comes after a senior DfE official revealed in January that one of the challenges facing the Opportunity Area programme was “making sure that we don’t overload schools”.
Now, Tim Coulson, the chair of the Norwich Opportunity Area Partnership Board, has talked about the impact the initiative has had in the city.
Speaking at a Westminster Education Forum conference last month, he said: “There was a proposal to fund in secondary schools an additional member on the leadership team of those secondary schools, to particularly have the capacity to cope with the millions of programmes that were being thrown at the secondary schools to try to improve social mobility.
“The secondary schools, to be honest, were saying ‘there’s too much; we’re drowned in good ideas’.”
Dr Coulson, who previously oversaw the academies system in the East of England as the DfE’s regional schools commissioner, said the proposal created tension between local primary and secondary schools.
He said: “It was one of those proposals that the secondary schools thought was a very good idea and the primary schools thought was giving too much money to secondary schools.
“Our collaboration was strained as we had that discussion.
“In the end, we decided we were going to do it, and we then had the debate about what strings we were going to give to the funding.
“The secondaries basically said ‘we will get on, we will get back to you’, and the primaries said ‘no you won’t, we don’t think you have in the past recruited the right people – look at your results. How can we trust you to appoint the right people to make any difference in social mobility?’”
Dr Coulson added: “The debate then calmed down slightly a bit after that.”
A review of the opportunity areas programme published this week has revealed concerns that decisions were being too heavily dominated by the Department for Education.