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Services to transform education and opportunities for the most disadvantaged: Levelling Up White Paper – Sector Reaction

Nadhim Zahawi, the new Secretary of State for Education
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The Levelling Up White Paper is launched – with a range of services to transform education and opportunities for the most disadvantaged to level up the nation including:

  • National Youth Guarantee: Backed by £560 million worth of investment
  • IoT’s may apply for a Royal Charter. The criteria and application process for Royal Charter status for IoTs will be set out in the spring.
  • Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi is establishing a new Future Skills Unit
  • Skills Bootcamps – up to an additional £550 million boost to Skills Bootcamps. Bootcamps are being expanded to offer greater support to SME’s, they will now only be asked to contribute 10% of the cost of training existing staff, reduced from 30%.
  • Prisoners can also now take advantage of skills bootcamps as part of a new trial to support them to find work on their release
  • Supported Internship Programme with £18 million over three years
  • National mission to work towards eradicating illiteracy and innumeracy in primary school leavers by 2030 in England
  • 55 communities with weak education outcomes designated ‘Education Investment Areas’ and will receive intensive support and these areas prioritised for new elite sixth form
  • SEND respite support for Councils– Councils to receive £30 Million in funding

Through the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper, areas such as County Durham, Cornwall and Hartlepool are set to benefit from improved schools, part of a package of measures that will also boost take-up of high-quality training across England and support stable families that help children to succeed.

The plans being published tomorrow will identify 55 ‘cold spots‘ of the country where school outcomes are the weakest, to target investment, support and action that help children from all backgrounds and areas to succeed at the very highest levels. These include Rochdale, the Isle of Wight, Walsall, parts of Yorkshire and Sunderland.  

As 95 per cent of these 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. 

In these new ‘Education Investment Areas‘, the Department for Education will offer retention payments to help schools keep the best teachers in the highest priority subjects. These areas will be prioritised as the location for new specialist sixth form free schools where there is limited provision to ensure talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to the highest standard of education this country offers.

Schools in these 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. This will be subject to a consultation in the spring.

The paper will set a new national mission to ensure that 90 per cent of children leaving primary school in England are reaching the expected standard in reading, writing, and maths by 2030. In 2019, just 65 per cent of pupils met all three standards, with the proportion substantially varying across the country.

Schools in the Education Investment Areas will also be given support to address wider issues. For instance, schools struggling with attendance will be encouraged to join a new pilot programme to tackle the issue. 

Nadhim Zahawi, Education Secretary

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: 

“The most valuable resource on the planet is the human resource. 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. 

“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.” 

National Youth Guarantee

In direct response to the activities young people said they want outside of school, the government has announced a National Youth Guarantee. Backed by £560 million worth of investment, plans set to be outlined in the Levelling Up White Paper will mean that every young person in England will have access to regular clubs and activities, adventures away from home and volunteering opportunities by 2025.

An extra £200 million is also being invested in the government’s Supporting Families programme in England, helping create strong, stable families where children thrive. This brings total investment to £695 million to improve the lives of up to 300,000 vulnerable families. The programme will help local areas tackle the challenges families face that can hold children back from attending and achieving at school or put them at risk of neglect or harm.  

Minister for Levelling up Communities and Equalities Kemi Badenoch MP said:

Minister for Levelling up Communities and Equalities Kemi Badenoch MP said:

“Our Supporting Families Programme is providing the most vulnerable families with the help they need to build a better future.

“This help means more children returning to the classroom, more parents out of work starting a job and more support for the victims of domestic abuse.”

Alongside these reforms will be a new skills mission set by the government to help improve people’s lives and boost the economy. This will target 200,000 more people in England to help them complete high-quality training each year by 2030, including 80,000 more completing courses in areas of England with the lowest skills levels. 

Skills are a crucial driver of economic disparities between people and places, so the mission will help level up opportunities in left behind areas. Boosting skills improves human capital which can drive up earnings potential and life chances for people who have already left school. 

New Future Skills Unit

To better understand the skills gaps, the Education Secretary is establishing a new Future Skills Unit which will look at the data and evidence of where skills gaps exist and in what industries.

Prisoners can use Skills Bootcamps to help them find work on their release

Thousands more adults will soon be able access free, flexible training and get the skills needs to secure careers in sectors including green, digital and construction as part of up to an additional £550 million boost to expand the popular Skills Bootcamps across the country. Prisoners can also now take advantage of skills bootcamps as part of a new trial to support them to find work on their release, levelling up opportunities for more people. 

IoT’s may apply for a Royal Charter

The plans published tomorrow will also set out the government’s commitment to making Institutes of Technology the pre-eminent organisation for technical STEM education in England, through which successful ones may apply for a Royal Charter. This will help secure their long-term position as anchor institutions in their regions, placing them on a par with the UK’s world-leading historic universities.

Supported Internship programme

The government will also double the capacity of the Supported Internship programme to provide thousands more young people who have additional needs to secure and sustain paid employment. Backed by £18 million over three years, the programme will additionally drive up the standards and quality of internship delivery across the country for students who have an Education Health and Care Plan.  

SEND Respite support

Children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), their families and caregivers will be better supported with respite care and internship opportunities. Councils will be funded £30 million for the next three years to set up more than 10,000 additional respite placements, helping to provide positive opportunities for disabled children and young people and to give family carers a break so they can look after vulnerable children better in the long-term.

The new funding for respite and Supported Internships come alongside more than £45 million of continued targeted support for families and parents of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

These programmes will:  

  • Target support to improve monitoring, support and intervention for local authorities and local health and care partners’ delivery of statutory SEND services, with a focus on underperforming areas and sharing best practice; 
  • Improve participation and access for parents and young people for high quality advice and support; and
  • Directly support schools and colleges to effectively work with pupils with SEND, for example through training on specific needs like autism.

Sector Reaction to the Levelling Up White Paper:

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges said:

“Colleges have been looking forward to the Levelling Up White Paper because of the central role they play in local communities, the labour market, and enhancing life chances for millions of people. So it is good to see skills, training and the work of colleges given a high priority.

“Today’s announcement is only part of the whole picture, and largely sets out a some more detail on the programmes and changes which were announced in last year’s Spending Review. We look forward to finding out more about the Education Investment Areas, but we would question what evidence there is for the neeed for new ‘elite sixth forms’ in our education system.

“More than anything, though, we want to see more emphasis on place-based collaborative approaches to education and skills. Our analysis has shown that competition between providers results in less choice and less coherence for learners and employers. We have also campaigned for better alignment between employment support and skills, between universities, colleges and schools, and between economic development and infrastructure spend and skills. All of that needs to be spelt out in the full white paper on Wednesday.

“Levelling up will only happen with increased investment from government and business in left behind places. That needs more work between DfE, DWP, BEIS and DLUC to focus on meeting needs, stimulating development and enabling joined-up skills, employment and business support.”

Commenting on the schools “levelling up” proposals, 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. 

“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.”

Commenting on Government proposals on the education of disadvantaged children, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“Whilst the National Education Union welcomes any new investment in schools it is vital to note, as the NAO has pointed out, “there has been a relative re-distribution of funding from the most deprived schools to the least deprived schools.” (1) We can see 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.

“The Government is crowing over the fact that real spending per head is finally going above 2010/11 levels, but this is nothing to be proud of. Firstly, it is only true at a national average, and the cuts made to disadvantaged areas since 2015 have not been made up. Secondly, to just match spending in 2010 betrays a real lack of ambition for education. Only through serious investment will we meet the ambition that all parents, head teachers, teachers and support staff have for the children they teach.

“We welcome a proper conversation about the skills which young people need for their lives, careers and as citizens, but piecemeal reform won’t adequately address our current ‘exam factory’ culture. Parents, staff and young people want a genuine curriculum review that will deliver a more varied and motivational educational offer post-Covid. It is a cultural shift we absolutely need to see.

“The government must also commit to a proper strategy across government to eradicate child poverty, because poverty can so strongly determine young people’s life chances and ambitions.

“There needs to be a collaborative strategy with the education workforce to re-think education after Covid.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, 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. It is 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.

“There is no doubt that these children clearly do need more support. We’re not sure this white paper actually achieves that objective because the support they need goes beyond the school gates to address issues around poverty and disadvantage, and there’s a crying need for better funding also for those with special educational needs. All the evidence tells us that investment in early years education would also pay dividends in helping these children.

“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. 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.

“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. Again, we await to find out the detail, and how the government feels it will work better this time round.”

Commenting on an announcement by the government of ‘major new reforms’ to improve education and skills in ‘Education Investment Areas’ in order to ‘level up the nation’, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union, said:

“The significant and additional challenges that schools in some parts of the country face are undeniable. Those schools and the pupils they serve certainly deserve extra support. Sadly, this announcement appears to fall short of what those schools and communities really need.

“What is needed is not another set of arbitrary targets, but a proper plan to ensure that every child has the very best start to life. This should include targeted support for the Early Years, as well as investment in the crucial support services that should be in place to support the pupils and families that need them. Schools are a vital part of this work, but they cannot do it alone.

“Rather than engage with those underlying issues, the government appears to have once again reached for simplistic solutions linked to structures and targets. Pointing at the problem is not the same as solving it. Setting targets for improvement is not the same as having a credible plan to deliver it. 

“Schools in these areas already do so much to support these pupils and it’s about time that the government caught up with them.”

Bridget Phillipson MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:

“The government is desperately trying to distract from the utter chaos at the heart of Downing Street by recycling old announcements which shows the limits of the Conservatives’ ambition for Britain.

“Under the Conservatives forty per cent of young people are leaving education without the qualifications they need to prosper, while rehashed ‘investment areas’ would not be needed if Ministers had only given our communities the respect they deserve for the last 11 years.

“Labour has set out plans to ensure that every young person leaves education ready for work and ready for life with the skills they need to secure good jobs in every part of this country, meaning no young person has to get out to get on. Supported by over 6,500 new teachers and with a professional careers advisor available for every school, Labour’s National Excellence Programme would help set every young person on the path to success.”

Elizabeth Taylor, Chief Executive, ERSA, said:

“The employment support sector has prepared for this day, and it is a relief to finally see the White Paper. If Levelling Up is to be achieved, it must reach people in the most disadvantaged groups and communities. We need to start seeing confirmed detail on funding allocated to PEOPLE. The employment support sector must be consulted to share our experience working with people to increase economic independence through good jobs and by acquiring skills to meet local labour market need. Levelling Up will not be achieved without adequately funded employment support provisions. European funding has been embedded in employability contracts, going back to the 1980s. It has always been able to reach people who weren’t actively involved in the labour market, for whatever reason, and it’s been able to respond to local skills and employment challenges.

“Employment support providers need clarity on funding and the next steps. This is becoming urgent, if allowed to drift, and we will start losing providers in the employment support community because we’re not getting to the point where shared prosperity is being commissioned. We are in danger of losing a wealth of experience and knowledge from the sector and weakening support for jobseekers when it is needed the most to upskill and match people to vacancies.”

WorldSkills UK CEO Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann OBE said:

“It is really encouraging to see the government putting high-quality skills at the heart of plans to drive up opportunities for people, whatever their backgrounds. We are keen to play our part in helping as many people as possible fulfil their potential. Our competition-based training programmes have a specific focus on opening up career opportunities to young people from all backgrounds, especially those who may traditionally have been denied them.

“We have to focus on the high-quality technical skills that employers need in the long-term as well as the short-term. A Future Skills Unit tasked with identifying and closing skills gaps will be vital in developing a world-class skills economy to match the UK’s world-leading knowledge economy. Our Skills Taskforce for Global Britain is currently exploring how we make sure more parts of the UK can develop these high-quality future skills as a key part of attracting dynamic international firms to those areas and creating the high-quality high-wage jobs required to help truly transform people’s lives.”

Kate Shoesmith, Deputy CEO of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, said:

“With skills and labour shortages across almost every sector and region of the UK, we have a real need for the Levelling Up white paper to deal with the issue. In particular, the REC has been calling for a focus on long-term workforce planning. The announcement of a Future Skills Unit has the potential to play a vital role in ensuring that the UK is training people to fill the needs of our labour market. But for this to work, it needs input from business and multiple government departments. This will ensure that funds are targeted at the sectors and skills that need them most.

“The REC has been asking for investment in entry level skills training as that is where the skills shortage is most acutely felt. It’s good to see some money set aside for this and when Skills Bootcamps are expanded, they should also include training for entry level roles. However, all of this will still be tinkering at the edges until the government reforms the Apprenticeship Levy and allows millions more people to access flexible training. In the employment industry, we want to work with government to ensure these interventions can have the impact intended.”

Education Investment Areas

All local authorities which contain one of 12 of the government’s Opportunity Areas will be designated as Education Investment Areas, and so will benefit from these interventions. 

Opportunity Areas have been and continue to be effective, with their funding extended up to the end of August 2022.

The 12 Opportunity Areas include:

  • Blackpool
  • Bradford
  • Derby
  • Doncaster
  • Fenland and East Cambridgeshire
  • Hastings
  • Ipswich
  • North Yorkshire Coast
  • Norwich
  • Oldham
  • Stoke-on-Trent
  • West Somerset

The 55 areas selected as Education Investment Areas to raise school standards include:

  • Bedford
  • Blackpool
  • Bolton
  • Bradford
  • Bury
  • Cambridgeshire
  • Central Bedfordshire
  • Cornwall
  • County Durham
  • Coventry
  • Darlington
  • Derby
  • Derbyshire
  • Doncaster
  • Dorset
  • Dudley
  • East Sussex
  • Halton
  • Hartlepool
  • Isle of Wight
  • Kirklees
  • Knowsley 
  • Leeds
  • Lincolnshire
  • Liverpool
  • Luton
  • Manchester
  • Middlesbrough
  • Norfolk
  • North Northamptonshire
  • North Somerset
  • North Yorkshire
  • Nottingham
  • Nottinghamshire
  • Oldham
  • Peterborough
  • Plymouth
  • Portsmouth
  • Rochdale
  • Rotherham
  • Salford
  • Sandwell
  • Sefton
  • Somerset
  • South Gloucestershire
  • South Tyneside
  • St. Helens
  • Stoke-on-Trent
  • Suffolk
  • Sunderland
  • Swindon
  • Tameside
  • Wakefield
  • Walsall
  • Wirral
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