Laura Oxley: Devolution could teach us all a lesson

Regional devolution could boost school standards.
Regional devolution could boost school standards.
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RECENT research suggests that pupils in Yorkshire schools are at a significant disadvantage compared with those attending schools in other regions.

This is simply unacceptable and urgent action is needed to close the gap.

Children and young people should not have their life chances determined by where they happen to live in England. Equality of educational opportunity should be expected across the country.

Yorkshire devolution (and here I mean devolution with similar powers to those in Scotland) could have a substantial positive impact on the provision of education within the region.

To start with, more money would be available to invest in Yorkshire schools and education resources in the county.

At a very basic level, increased funding for education in Yorkshire could mean improved school buildings and facilities, with enough money available for teaching resources.

This would then be a draw to attract high quality staff to the region, thus making it easier for Yorkshire schools to recruit and, most importantly, retain inspirational school leaders, outstanding teachers and dedicated support staff.

Additional funding would also enable schools to offer a high standard of continuing professional development, ensuring that school staff in Yorkshire are well versed in the latest educational research, tools, and techniques.

However, there are few examples of money alone raising quality in the public sector.

A further advantage of Yorkshire devolution would also be more control over how money is spent on education in our region. Schools would be in a much better position to work collaboratively to establish the resources and services that are most needed in their local area.

The needs of schools can vary widely across a region, particularly one as large and diverse as Yorkshire, but school leaders know what their school needs the most, and increased control over spending, combined with a collaborative working relationship with other schools in the local area, would empower them to address these needs.

An area that is often neglected is that of alternative provision for students who find it difficult to manage their behaviour in mainstream education.

With all mainstream schools now expected to convert to academies, schools will have the freedom to develop a much wider range of alternative provision to meet the needs of these learners.

Often students who struggle in mainstream schools will benefit from the provision of high quality educational settings, which have the staff and resources to offer additional support alongside the opportunity to reintegrate into mainstream school at an appropriate time.

This type of provision would significantly reduce the need for exclusions, and devolved funding for schools to manage their own alternative provision is already being trialled in other areas of the country with some success.

As a PhD student in psychology in education, specifically focusing on approaches to behaviour management, and an educational professional with years of experience working with schools to support marginalised young people at risk of exclusion from school, I would suggest that there needs to continue to be some oversight and accountability maintained.

Traditionally a role for the local education authority, there will continue to be a need for an appropriate body to oversee collaboration between individual academies and different multi-academy trusts for the benefit of all children and young people within the county.

As there can be an element of competitiveness between schools in the same area, this body would be required to mediate when disagreements occur, to encourage schools to work in a collaborative manner with their neighbours, and to champion the rights of all pupils to access education.

Yorkshire devolution is a fantastic opportunity for education in our region to be improved with new and innovative ways of working tailored to local needs.

Increased educational funding and greater control over the spending of this money would have a significantly positive impact on the life chances of children and young people growing up in Yorkshire today.

A devolution deal for the whole of Yorkshire would be a positive first step towards ensuring educational equality for all young people in our region.

Laura Oxley is a PhD student with the Psychology in Education Research Centre at the University of York and has worked in education for the past 13 years.