Labour calls for action to tackle failing schools in seaside towns and northern cities - Twigg

13 November 2012

Stephen Twigg


Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, Stephen Twigg MP is today calling for action to tackle failing schools in seaside and coastal communities and areas of the North. 

Speaking to the Caroline Benn Memorial Lecture tonight, Stephen Twigg will expected to say: 

“While the achievement gap between poorer and wealthier children narrowed under a Labour Government, I want to talk about an Arc of Underachievement which is blighting the life chances of thousands of children and young people. 

“This Arc of Underachievement runs through many of our seaside towns and coastal cities. In places such as Clacton, Torbay and Morecambe, there are too many schools which are not allowing pupils to make the most of their potential. Many schools in these communities are below the national average for GCSE results. 

“While overall result s improved between 2006 and 2010, coastal areas fared less well. If you take Cornwall – the probability that a poor child will have GCSE results in the bottom quarter nationally increased by 8% between 2006 and 2010. Whereas in Southwark, the probability decreased by 7%. In North East Lincolnshire, the probability increased by 7%, whereas in Darlington it fell by 10%. 

“There is also an Arc of Underachievement that includes a number of Northern towns and cities in England – including some schools in places such as Hull, Blackpool and Knowsley. 

“In these areas, fewer than half of all pupils get 5 good GCSE grades A* to C, including English and Maths, and they do not make the progress you would expect of pupils. 

“However, there are also some beacons of excellence such as Manchester and Bury, and we need to learn from their success. 

“As those who believe in social justice and equality of opportunity, we must address this problem honestly, and without fear. To do anything else would be to allow a catastrophe of neglect.” 

“We must never accept the attitude which says ‘you don’t know what we are working with – you can’t turn coal into diamond.’ If that was the case, why is that schools in places like Hackney and Jarrow achieve impressive results?”

“In many areas, it is white working class children who are being held back. In the most recent set of GCSE data, white pupils on free schools meals were the worst performers. Fewer than 30% of white pupils on free school meals got 5 good GCSEs including English and Maths. That compares to 44% of Black pupils, nearly half of Asian pupils, and 74% of Chinese pupils on free school meals.

“Many of these areas have been suffering long-term decline. Northern towns and cities have witnessed the collapse of traditional extractive industries and manufacturing, while seaside resorts have suffered a decline in tourism with the appeal of cheap flights to sunnier climes. 

“The other major element is isolation. Experienced teachers and bright graduates are less likely to move to these areas, partly because they don’t know about them, or they fear a long journey to visit friends and family. The remoteness of a place like Hunstanton in Norfolk means they have struggled to recruit good science teachers. While there are many excellent teachers and head teachers, areas of Cumbria, including schools in Barrow, Ulverston and Workington have struggled to attract enough high quality teachers and head teachers.”

Learning from successful school improvements in London and in Manchester Stephen Twigg will call for a series of regional “school challenges” in Northern and Coastal areas, “a relentless drive on school improvement which is focussed on clear leadership, early intervention and effective collaboration. To ensure that no school is left behind.”

“No school should be an island. Rather than focus sing just on competition, collaboration should be promoted within the school system. Strong schools should work with weaker schools to raise performance for all. To ensure that no school is left behind.” 

Collaboration could include being part of an academy chain, a co-operative trust, a school federation or a cluster of schools. 

In addition, Labour wants to double the number of Teach First graduates from 1,000 to 2,000 a year – which places teachers in schools in more challenging areas. The Government has only committed to increase the number to 1,500 a year. And Labour is looking incentivising teachers to go to work in Northern schools and coastal areas through a refund in tuition fees if a teacher commits to work in a school in these communities for at least two years.