Pupils falling behind to get help in English and maths – Schools White Paper

A new Parent Pledge will offer targeted support to pupils at risk of falling behind.

27 March 2022

All pupils in England at risk of falling behind will be offered targeted support, the Government announced on Monday.

In the long-awaited Schools White Paper, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has set out his vision for schools over the next decade, including a plan for a Parent Pledge for pupils falling behind in English and maths to get extra support.

The Government said would this build on plans, set out in the Levelling Up White Paper, for 90% of pupils leaving primary school to meet expected standards in literacy and numeracy.

In 2019, 65% of pupils leaving Year 6 met this standard.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi (Aaron Chown/PA)

Labour accused ministers of a “smoke-and-mirrors announcement”, arguing that developing good reading, writing and maths skills should be fundamental to the school system not an “add on”.

Under the Government’s pledge, schools will identify pupils at risk of falling behind, offering them a range of support, including tutoring sessions in small groups, and parents will be kept informed of their child’s progress.

The White Paper added that it aims for the national average GCSE grade achieved in English and maths to rise from 4.5 in 2019 to five by 2030.

And the paper also included a pledge for all schools to have joined, or be in the process of joining, a “strong” multi-academy trust by 2030.

Under the plans, councils will be able to set up and run their own academy trusts, which it is hoped will encourage more primary schools to become academies.

Councils will also legally be able to request for their non-academy schools to join a trust.

And where schools have received two consecutive Ofsted judgements of below “Good”, the Government plans to help them to join strong trusts – with an initial focus on schools in the 55 education “cold spots” identified in the Levelling Up paper.

A minimum standard length for the school week will be set, with all schools required to have a week of at least 32.5 hours’ length by September 2023.

The paper says that by 2025, Ofsted will inspect every school, including a backlog of schools previously rated “outstanding”, some of which have not been inspected for years.

The Government said that the Education Endowment Foundation charity will receive at least £100 million in funding, so that it can continue to evaluate the best teaching practice over the long term, and spread this across the country.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “we are making a pledge to every parent, if your child falls behind at school in either of these key subjects, their school will help them get back on track”.

“By making sure every child receives excellent teaching which helps them reach their full potential, we will spread opportunity and futureproof our mission to level up the country,” he added.

Mr Zahawi said: “Any child who falls behind in maths or English will get the support they need to get back on track, and schools will also be asked to offer at least a 32.5 hour school week by September 2023.”

Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons’ Education Select Committee, said: “Increasing parental engagement through the ‘parent pledge’ will help break down long-standing and often complicated barriers that exist to help increase attendance, especially in relation to the 124,000 ‘ghost children’ who have dropped out of the school system following the outbreak of the pandemic.”

Headteachers have said that while the White Paper does not lack ambition, it “falls short” on policies likely to make a difference to pupils’ progress.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said: “Commitment to adequate funding, access to support services or detail on how these bold ambitions will be achieved is sadly missing.”

He said the decision to change school structures was likely to be “controversial”, and could even prove a “distraction” unless the Government presented a “compelling case” for the changes.

If the Government resorted to forcing schools to join trusts, the policy would become “destructive”, he said.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said the strategy is “distracting from the business of teaching with yet more tinkering with school structures whilst offering nothing to change children’s day to day experience in the classroom”.

“Parents will be surprised to hear that a focus on helping every child develop good reading, writing and maths skills is a new discovery for the Education Secretary,” the Labour MP added.

“This isn’t an add on that any parent should have to ask for, it’s the fundamentals of a good school system.”

And Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said that while the paper outlined a number of “promising and helpful” measures, overall it was “mechanistic” and lacked ambition.

He said that the paper lacked “big ideas” for the future of education, and that the plan for boosting pupils’ literacy and numeracy targets was “vague”.

“Improving English and maths outcomes is a laudable ambition, but there is little recognition of the wider societal factors which affect those outcomes, such as the fact that nearly a third of children in the UK live in poverty. It is hard to learn when you are hungry, cold, poorly clothed and live in inadequate housing,” he said.

“Focusing so intensely on English and maths, important as those subjects are, is also a very narrow view of education.”

He added that the “Parent Pledge” seemed like a “policy gimmick”, as schools already had their own robust systems for tracking pupils’ progress.

It could even create tensions between parents and schools, by creating an expectation of various forms of additional support “on demand”, which would not be realistic when schools already faced stretched budgets to meet the needs of their pupils, he said.

The paper also announced that 500,000 teacher training and development opportunities would be introduced, and affirmed a commitment to raise starting salaries to £30,000.

It pledged to introduce a register for pupils not in school to ensure “no child is lost” from the system.

And it set out plans for every school to have access to funded training for a senior mental health lead to establish whole school approaches to wellbeing.

The paper pledged for up to six million tutoring courses to be delivered by 2024 and promised action to cement tuition as a permanent part of the education system.

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