However, not every school is as successful and the Government’s Progress 8 accountability measure – focusing on how well children and young people improve at secondary school – and the Ofsted judgments based on it stacks the odds against schools in more disadvantaged areas.
Not only does this skew perception of schools unfairly, but it also means that, at times, the schools which need the most school improvement support are slipping through the net.
The league tables and data that we use to judge schools are often more a measure of the school’s intake than the quality of teaching, learning and real progress being made in that school. Indeed, Ofsted themselves often reward these same measures, and therefore a school’s intake, when giving Ofsted judgments as headteachers and the EPI have recently warned.
With two thirds of the schools teaching the most disadvantaged children, in poverty from primary through to secondary school, in the North, the Government’s accountability measures are rewarding schools in leafy suburbs and comparing them as if they are the same as some of these more challenging schools. The system as it stands does not recognise context. This is unfair.
This week the Northern Powerhouse Partnership published the thorough and comprehensive schools index for secondary schools by researchers at the University of Bristol with a value-added measure of children’s achievements to better compare schools.
This new Fair Secondary School Index uses much more detailed data and analysis to arrive at fairer and deeper understandings of what makes a good school, often turning league table standings on their heads.
We can see from this that some schools operating in the most challenging contexts are doing an outstanding job. The best secondary school overall in the country on the Fair Secondary Schools Index – in Bradford – rises up from third in England on the standard version of Progress 8.
Schools with high proportions of children in poverty making better progress on this fairer measure – like the Kingswood Academy in Hull and Ormiston Chadwick Academy in Halton – are in the top 10 nationally out of all schools (up 158 places and 119 places respectively).
In the North East, where pupils do well at primary school, then drop off at secondary level on the standard measure, schools across that region go up the Index by 361 places when ranked nationally.
There is a significant gap in how schools do in the North, even when we assess them on this fairer secondary school measure. But we need to understand how our schools are doing taking into account the background of their children so we can close the divide ensuring children who are school ready at five, are supported to keep up and do better in education than ever before.
Indeed, every child in my inner-city constituency, and many of our former industrial towns in the North, should have the same life chances as children down south or in leafy suburbia. The Government haven’t had the consistent focus on improving standards in education in the Northern Powerhouse.
That is a problem, because while we need real investment in education in the North, and more devolved powers and funding to our metro mayors alongside further devolution on skills, we shouldn’t just be doing down schools and attainment in the North on the basis of incomplete and skewed analysis.
With great universities like the University of Manchester. the headquarters of Siemens with its world class apprenticeships or jobs at Media City in Salford or Channel 4’s new home in Leeds, there are life-changing opportunities here. But can those born here today and in recent years benefit from these in full? Too often they can’t – yet.
This is a ground-breaking piece of work by the Norther Powerhouse Partnership with Bristol University and I hope it is taken up wholeheartedly by the Department for Education, Ofsted and all those working on improving schools.
Lucy Powell is a Labour MP for Manchester Central and former Shadow Education Secretary. She backs the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.