Gavin Williamson must rectify widespread primary school failings outside London: Jayne Dowle

I HAVE have a question for Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, and his boss. Is it acceptable for thousands of children in England to be educated in a primary school rated inadequate or requiring improvement?

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson arrives in Downing Street in central London on May 1, 2020 (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson arrives in Downing Street in central London on May 1, 2020 (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Especially when the Government is constantly pushing its spurious agenda of “levelling up”? And let’s forget levelling up for a moment, what about a decent education as a fundamental human right?

More than 200,000 primary school pupils in England live in areas with no schools rated Good or Outstanding, while families here are 12 times more likely to live in an area with an above average number of primary schools rated inadequate or requiring improvement than their peers in London.

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It’s not just a North-South divide either. It’s the same situation in the East Midlands and the South-West.

What more can be done to raise standards in primary schools? Jayne Dowle poses the question.

Even before coronavirus hit, pupils in these “stubbornly underperforming” schools were “already suffering lost learning”, the report says.

Education is the key to raising aspirations, opening doors and preparing children for a life in which they are fully-equipped to take advantage of opportunities which the most-privileged take for granted.

Without the confidence of a solid education, youngsters in less-favoured parts of the country will always fall several steps behind, never quite catching up, and leaving full-time education unprepared to take part in meaningful adult life which can contribute towards economic renewal in their communities.

It’s quite simple really, and hundreds of backbench MPs, from both sides of the House, understand it.

What more can be done to raise standards in primary schools? Jayne Dowle poses the question.

A Tory MP Jonathan Gullis, who joined the Commons in 2019 to represent Stoke-on-Trent, has even written the foreword for the report: “Levelling up has come to mean a wealth of different things, but ultimately it comes down to improving opportunity. We all have talent but tragically opportunity is not distributed evenly.”

Why, then, do senior Ministers seem unable to comprehend? The response from the Government is frankly, underwhelming.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The proportion of schools judged as Good and Outstanding has increased from 68 per cent in 2010 to 86 per cent in August 2020. But we know there is more to do.”

Partly because of the pandemic, but also because of lack of resources for rigorous and regular inspections, many schools have not been re-inspected for years, even a decade.

What more can be done to raise standards in primary schools? Jayne Dowle poses the question.

Anecdotally, I can tell you that there are plenty of ‘coasting’ schools in our region which may no longer deserve the good or outstanding mark awarded in the past.

This simply adds fuel to the fire of underperformance and it’s invidious of the Department of Education to trot out this catch-all statement.

Also, it totally over-rides the contextual difficulties children might face, including poverty, poor health, physical and mental, or English as a second language.

And it doesn’t even begin to address the pressures which teaching and support staff must encounter day in, day out, to do their jobs, from paying for classroom resources out of their own pockets to teaching children how to use the toilet.

Any teacher, school secretary or dinner lady will tell you that what they see at school is only the tip of a very worrying iceberg. The issues which blight the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and compromise their futures, storing up all kinds of social problems, go much further than the school gate.

As such, there should be far more resources available to help schools, health organisations and social services work productively together to support the pupils who need help the most and demand attention from already over-worked staff.

Also, there should also be a reassessment of the mighty assessors, Ofsted, and a fresh focus on a targeted roll-out of inspections for all schools. It might be painful, but it’s beyond necessary.

If Boris Johnson and the hapless Mr Williamson haven’t the stomach for it, I have a suggestion. Put the new Children’s Commissioner, Rachel de Souza, in charge to enable her to make her mark.

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