1. Put education reform at the heart of the next Government
Education and improving the life chances of children in England is key to ensuring our social and economic success. Unfortunately, the successful free schools and academy reforms started by Labour and built on by the Conservatives have stagnated in recent years. The sector is lacking a direction of travel.
The founding principles of these reforms are as relevant today as they were decades ago. Teachers and school leaders need the freedom to implement what works for their pupils. Parents need to be able to exercise a genuine choice on how to educate their child. Communities need to have a stake in the schools that serve their area.
Education reform is a process not a destination. The moment we stand still is the moment we let down the next generation of young people headed to our schools. There is a risk now that the system is becoming dominated by a few big regional players. New community-led trusts are unable to enter the sector. The emphasis is on large multi academy trust’s to consolidate. We believe school trusts should be rooted in the communities they serve, with social responsibility at their heart, not grow for the sake of growth but in response to local needs.
The future of education lies in encouraging collaboration and tightening the links between Metro Mayors, local government, businesses, parents and teachers. The next Government must lay out a roadmap for reform in education. This means:
- Re-empowering parents, teachers, and community charities to open new schools;
- Allow single schools and small innovative trusts to grow and share best practice both within and beyond their local area;
- Provide financial support for schools to establish a new trust;
- Ensure the process of converting to a trust is transparent, equitable across all regions and takes place in a reasonable timeframe.
2. Open 100 new schools each year
Since 2010 NSN has helped empower parents, teachers and local community groups, seize the opportunity to run a school designed around the pupil population they serve. This has led to over 500 new schools opening and a further 226 in the pipeline. Where they exist, they are transforming the lives of pupils that attend them, offering genuine parental choice and innovation to improve outcomes for children in England. Free schools are now the highest performing schools in Key Stages, 1, 4 and 5, and are more likely to be rated as Outstanding than any other type of school.
But although free schools are thriving in many areas, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure the programme works for everyone. The success is too concentrated in narrow pockets across the country. NSN found there are 25 local authorities yet to benefit from a new school, of which 14 are in the top 25% of the Deprivation Index and 18 have Progress 8 scores far below the national average. To deliver transformational change for the whole country, free schools must lead the way with innovative approaches in their schools in the areas they are needed most.
Every parent has the right to send their child to a good school. Building 100 new free schools a year will help to deliver this, particularly in those communities that have been left behind, with high levels of socio economic deprivation and educational underperformance.
To deliver this at pace, the next Government must also legislate for new powers enabling them to compel local authorities to set aside land for new schools.
One of the biggest barriers to opening new schools is finding a suitable site. Year after year, this continues to be the single biggest issue for new schools. From a survey conducted by NSN, 70% of pre-open and newly opened schools identified finding a site as the biggest challenge. Instead of an antagonistic approach that pitches new schools in conflict with local authorities over finding a site, the next Government must ensure local authorities work closely with schools to help secure sites.
3. Investment in provision for pupils at risk of exclusion and gang violence
Almost a quarter of children in England who said they had carried a knife in the previous year had been expelled or suspended from school.
Children who have fallen out of mainstream education for whatever reason deserve a proper chance to get back on track. But too much alternative provision (AP) is not good enough and fails to focus on rehabilitative provision. As well as this, the extra funding which drops off for pupils in AP post-16 is not acceptable. This is leaving some of our most vulnerable young people at risk of grooming by gangs and falling into knife crime.
There are 10 LAs with no AP regulated by the state sector and, Ofsted estimated that 6,000 children were being educated in unregistered illegal schools in 2018. We cannot allow a lack of provision to write off life chances for any young person.
AP free schools are doing substantial work to support children who have been excluded or are at risk of exclusion giving them a second chance. But we know that we need more of them, with schools crying out for better early intervention support. The next Government should:
- Launch a dedicated AP free school wave to quickly open new outstanding AP across the country;
- Legislate to require any provider educating young people for more than eight hours a week to register and be Ofsted inspected
- Ensure a fairer funding settlement for pupils who need 16-19 AP by funding schools on an equal basis with pre-16 AP.
4. Reform the system to make provision for pupils with special educational needs (SEN) fairer
The total number of children and young people with statements of SEN or Education, Health and Care plans (EHCP) has increased year on year since 2010. Most recently between May 2018 and May 2019 the number of pupils receiving an EHCP increased by a further 11%.
A report from the Education Select Committee, last month, highlighted significant issues in the provision of support for pupils with special educational needs. In particular, a general lack of accountability in the system, bureaucratic process, conflicts of interest and a postcode lottery.
Since 2010, 43 new special free schools have opened with 46 more in the pipeline- clearly offering an ambitious response to this challenge. But we know that parents, schools and LAs are calling out for more high quality provision for these pupils.
The next Government should:
- Invest in a new wave of special free schools to deliver new places for pupils in most need of high quality education and support;
- Reform the system to separate the role of producing an EHCP and paying for delivering the education, health and care support;
- Allow independent special schools to convert to become an academy.