New social mobility package unveiled by Education Secretary – Friday 7 October 2016

This week I highlight the Education Secretary’s announcement of the creation of new ‘opportunity areas’ that will receive £60m towards school improvement, concerns raised on social media about schools collecting census nationality data and confirmation of changes at the Northern Regional Schools Commissioner’s office.

New £60m ‘opportunity areas’
On Tuesday the Education Secretary, Justine Greening announced the creation of new ‘opportunity areas’ across the country which will receive £60m towards school improvement, teacher support and school-business collaboration.

The ‘opportunity areas’ are social mobility “cold spots” identified by the Social Mobility Index (published by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission), with the first in West Somerset, Norwich, Blackpool, Scarborough, Derby and Oldham, before the programme is widened out to four other parts of the country in the coming months. Whilst three North East Local Authority areas have been identified by the report as being social mobility “cold spots”, they are ranked in the bottom 20%.

Requirement for schools to collect census nationality data
Changes to the school census that require the collection of data on pupils’ country of birth and nationality are back on the agenda again after parents took to twitter to share examples of their schools’ responses to the new rules. The debate has also been potentially reignited following an announcement at the Conservative Party conference that companies will be forced to list foreign workers.

The information is being collected for inclusion in the national pupil database (NPD) which helps civil servants and researchers get a full picture of a school’s roll, and the Government has claimed the additional information is needed to make that picture more complete. Among the concerns of parents and activists is that the data could be passed to the Home Office and be used to help curb immigration, but the DfE has said it has no current plans to do so.

Whilst the rules place an obligation on schools to ask parents for the country of birth and nationality of their child, there is no requirement for either parents or pupils to supply the information and schools can record that refusal in their census submission. Schools also have the option to tick either ‘not yet obtained’ or ‘not known’.

Changes at the Northern Regional Schools Commissioner’s office
The start of the new academic year has seen a number of changes at the Northern Regional Schools Commissioner’s office with two new Deputy Directors, Katherine Cowell and Jane Wilson.  Following restructuring, Steve Bibby, Jean Jackson and Mark Marshall now have responsibility for Northumberland, Newcastle, Gateshead, South and North Tyneside, Sunderland, and Durham.

There are also two new co-opted appointments to the Northern Head Teacher Board; Sir Michael Wilkins (retired former CEO of Outwood Grange Academies Trust), and Elizabeth Horne OBE (CEO of Horizons Specialist Academy Trust in the Tees Valley).

The RSC North newsletter that announced these changes also carried a message from the National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter, who wanted to reassure primary schools that the changes in Key Stage 2 testing and assessment would not mean that significantly more schools would be classed as below floor targets.

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