I have written to the North West lead for Ofsted, Chris Russell, calling for a Greater Manchester coalition for ambition on educational attainment. We all need to demand more for our children’s future.
Please see below for the full text of the letter;
"Dear Mr. Russell,
I am writing to reply to your letter of 22nd February concerning educational outcomes for secondary pupils in Greater Manchester.
Firstly, let me say I welcome your public intervention. Discussing any area of public provision where improvements are needed can be uncomfortable, but that should not stop us from doing so. I believe it is important that when this happens we are able to have a frank conversation and engage the public in where improvements might be made. I also believe such a discussion should in no way be construed as an attack on teachers and other school support staff, who I genuinely believe to be the best generation of school staff the UK has ever had. However, it is undeniable that having only 58% of 19-year olds with a level 2 qualification (including English and Maths) is inadequate for a city with the aspirations Greater Manchester has.
I spend a great deal of time in schools in my constituency. In the Stalybridge and Hyde constituency I currently have 31 primary schools and seven secondary schools - Alder, Longdendale, Mossley Hollins, Copley, West Hill, Hyde Technology School and Astley. Of the secondary schools, two are converter academies and the other five are LEA schools. Of these, four of the LEA schools are part of a voluntary collaboration between local schools, the 'A+ Trust'. There is also a small independent school in Stalybridge, Trinity School.
I see a great deal in my local schools that impresses me. In particular, the current generation of head teachers in my constituency strike me as being very strong and capable leaders. I have seen on several occasions situations where leaders can bring about substantial improvements if they are given the time to do so, but political pressure can mitigate against that time being taken.
I believe there is much we can all do to improve school performance. The debate amongst national politicians in Parliament between the merits of LEA systems versus academy chains is stale and mostly unhelpful. From what I see, schools require both accountability and capacity to make continued improvements. These can be achieved in either academy chains or LEAs, and equally they can be absent from both. Local authorities should be held firmly accountable if they are not providing what is required, but so should academy chains. It is reasonable and only to be expected for local authorities to complain when they are held accountable for schools for which they are not responsible and who in many cases will not cooperate with them.
Another concern I have is centralisation. When an academy school in my constituency went into special measures I dealt directly with civil servants in London as to whether or not a new sponsor would have to be found. I was happy to do this but it does seem sub-optimal that there is no longer an intermediary body, with direct knowledge and experience of the school, to handle this. It is hard for local stakeholders to trust in decisions which appear to be made so remotely.
It for these two reasons that last year I proposed that Greater Manchester, as part of the devolution process, should gain responsibility for schools and that the Mayor should appoint a Schools Commissioner to oversee school improvement across GM. The Commissioner's remit would cover schools under whatever structure they operated under, and would take the lead on school improvement. I believe such a high-profile role would attract applicants of significant stature, and allow us to raise additional resources locally in excess of the national funding formula to be focused on school improvement.
I also believe there must be a more opportunity for innovation. I would like to see a 4-16, 'all-through' state school piloted in my constituency to see if the dip in attainment at age 11 can be avoided. I would also like to see consideration given to trialing whether pupils should apply to secondary school a year earlier, so that admissions can be better managed and pupils begin to prepare for secondary school earlier.
I would also like to see a more strategic approach to linking up early years provision with primary education, to ease the transition to formal learning, but moreover to better combat the chronic issues with school readiness. 41% of children in Tameside are not “school ready” when starting reception. The now typical eighteen month development gap between different four year olds in the average primary intake in Tameside poses significant challenges for teachers from day one. I believe a GM Mayor with powers over both children’s services and education could achieve some true innovations in this area.
Aspiration is sometimes a contentious word in politics but there is no doubt that differential expectations can have a huge impact on children. As one of the UK’s leading and most widely-known cities in the world, which has produced some of our most renowned business people, sports men and women, actors, artists, academics and journalists, I always feel there must be some way we can use this legacy to inspire future generations. I would like to see the new Mayor's office sponsor contests, prizes and events to try and do this. I know there are many people from our area who would gladly give their time to do this.
One additional thing I would say is that teacher recruitment is genuinely becoming the biggest issue facing schools in my area. Every head teacher reports significant problems. The Government seems reluctant to acknowledge this, but it must be addressed. There are also too few teachers coming forward to take on middle and senior leadership roles, meaning recruitment and succession planning are now both lengthier and more challenging than in recent memory. We need to look at the national causes of this, but I would also like to see a Greater Manchester offer making teaching here attractive to the very brightest and best of the profession. As your letter highlighted, the gap between our attainment and the national average points to a strong case for this.
Finally, I would like to see us wholly refresh our approach to engaging with parents and carers. Parental satisfaction with their children’s education is usually very high in Tameside, especially at primary school level. This is in part testament to close communities and strong pastoral care. But I also believe in some cases mediocre attainment can be tolerated for so long that it becomes the norm. No part of my constituency nor any others deserve anything less than the best possible outcomes for their children. Parents need to know that, however lovely their class teacher, it is ok to demand more from the governors, LEA or sponsors accountable for their schools’ performance. We need an ambition to go further that is shared across children, educationalists, parents, policy makers, employers and future investors. We must build a Greater Manchester coalition for ambition.
With best wishes.
Jonathan Reynolds MP"