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Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy

Volume 618: debated on Monday 19 December 2016

9. What plans the Government have to respond to the independent review by Sir Nick Weller, “A Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy”, published in November 2016. (907951)

We are committed to tackling educational inequality so that all pupils can fulfil their potential. We welcome the important contribution that Sir Nick Weller’s report is making towards delivering that objective, including its recognition of the benefits of an academic curriculum and robust governance structures.

Northern schools have been improving, but there is more to do. A northern powerhouse challenge that is as well funded as the London Challenge programme was under the Labour Government would be welcome for schools such as the McMillan Nursery School in my constituency—an outstanding school led by an excellent headteacher, Andrew Shimmin, and his staff. What support will be available to schools such as that, which is already doing its best in a disadvantaged area?

As Sir Nick’s report shows, there is an achievement gap between the north and the south, which is why the Chancellor announced in the March 2016 Budget £70 million of new funding between now and 2020 to support a northern powerhouse schools strategy.

The Minister knows that Trafford is the best performing local authority area in the north of England, yet it is also one of the f40 group of worst-funded authorities. I am sure he can imagine the concern that last week’s draft funding formula will lead to all secondary schools and a number of primary schools being worse off. Will he look at the nature of the funding formula as a matter of urgency to ensure real fairness to those authorities that have been underfunded?

Overall, f40 authorities will see significant gains through the national funding formula—some £210 million in total. I acknowledge that in Trafford there is a loss of 0.4%, but the current local formula there underfunds primary schools compared with secondary schools. Trafford gives £4,212 for each key stage 3 pupil but the figure for primaries is only £2,642. Under the proposed NFF, Trafford’s secondary schools will lose but its primaries will gain.

The Education Policy Institute found that academy trusts are no better at raising standards than local authorities, so why does Nick Weller’s report say that expanding multi-academy trusts is

“key to driving up standards in the North”?

Is it because he is very well paid by a multi-academy trust, or is there perchance any evidence for what he suggests?

It is because he is experienced in running a very successful MAT. We know that sponsored academies increase standards very rapidly, certainly more swiftly than the predecessor school.

One cause of the underperformance in northern schools that the report identifies is the challenge of teacher supply. Does the Minister agree that one way of improving that would be to recruit more former members of the armed forces into our teaching profession?

Yes, I do, and we have a scheme that does just that. As the years go by, it is recruiting increasing, albeit small, numbers of highly qualified, experienced ex-military personnel.