New Schools under Labour
For that reason the Labour party positively clamours to encourage teachers, parents, educationalists, social enterprises, charities and universities to set-up innovative schools as part of a new parent-led academy programme. Especially in the coastal towns and coalfield communities where we urgently need to address white working class underachievement. All we ask is that these schools commit to hiring qualified teachers and are accountable to local initiatives to improve standards in their respective communities. And that, given the baby boom and pressured public finances, any new school is built where there is an actual need for places.
Tristram Hunt MP, writing in Progress online, 10 March 2015
It’s great to see such a strong commitment from Tristram Hunt to the continuation of new schools. This is by no means a universally popular position within the Labour party – indeed, the final report of the National Policy Forum doesn’t explicitly mention Parent Led Academies by name, although it does talk several times about the processes of local communities setting up and engaging with new patterns of provision in their area. As we have said several times, huge credit must go to the Shadow Education team for maintaining an explicit commitment to the benefits of new providers.
It’s clear from the piece quoted above that Labour believe the innovation from these schools can help find solutions to the urgent issue of white working class underachievement. The focus on coastal towns and coalfield communities is also extremely sensible. Ofsted identified this in 2013, when they called for attention to refocus away from inner city schools to the less obvious but far lower performing ones in coastal towns, market towns and rural areas.
The latest data shows that these areas are still underperforming. Below is a list of the 2014 GCSE and Key Stage 2 results for the relevant Local Authorities in coalfield areas which were identified as requiring regeneration, and for the Local Authorities containing the 10 towns identified by the ONS as the most deprived English seaside destinations the last time they produced data on the issue in 2010.1
|Newcastle upon Tyne||57%||80%|
So Labour is clearly right to support the opening of new schools in these areas as part of an overall area wide approach to improve standards. Parent-led academies in these areas of underperformance could lead to innovative new schools which could begin to find solutions for the complex educational needs these areas have.
Our concern is with the criteria flagged later in that same paragraph – that the area must have a need for more school places. The trouble is that this would rule out most of these coastal and coalfield areas from having new schools. Below are the current number of school places in former coalfield areas. If the number is negative, it shows how many extra school places are needed in the area. If the number is positive, it shows how many spare places there currently are.
In coastal areas there is a similar issue. Here is the data around school places in those areas:
|Newcastle upon Tyne||2184||225|
The results here are clear. If the Parent Led Academy policy restricts new schools to areas with a shortage of school places then only one Local Authority in a former coalfield area will be eligible for a new parent led school at secondary, and one at primary. Parents with children who live in the other fifteen Local Authorities will be unable to apply to set up one of these innovative schools. And not a single one of these coastal areas identified as having the greatest social need by ONS would be eligible for a new parent led secondary school, no matter how much the local community wanted one. At primary this would only be the case in half of the areas, however at primary the educational disadvantage is not so severe.
It is entirely possible for any government to allocate sufficient school capital funding to both address the immediate need for new school places, and to respond to parental demand and address educational underperformance. Parent-Led Academies can and must be part of both of these approaches.
1 The towns are Skegness, Blackpool, Clacton, Hastings, Ramsgate, Seaham, Margate, Hartlepool, Great Yarmouth and South Shields