2021 Autumn Term 2


  • Clockwork Tomato
    Geoff Barton explores the less familiar areas of leadership in the hope we can appreciate that each and every leader leaves behind an education system better than the one they inherited. More
  • Here to Help
    Supporting you is at the heart of everything we do. Director of Member Support, Richard Tanton, says it's been an exceptionally busy year for his team, advising and representing leaders through extremely challenging times. Here he provides an overview. More
  • Considering Headship?
    Taking the step from senior leader to headteacher or principal can be daunting. Here, Headteacher and ASCL Consultant Gareth Burton shares top tips to help leaders considering their next move. More
  • Keeping Track
    As a multi-academy trust (MAT) leader, navigating assessment data across your schools is essential but it can be complicated and time consuming. Here, Sue Macgregor from Alps shares top tips on how trust leaders can better manage the process. More
  • Making a Difference
    Over the last three years, we've put our work on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) at the heart of everything we do at ASCL. Here Rachael Warwick, Immediate Past President, highlights the work undertaken so far and shares our future plans. More
  • Levelling Up
    In their new roles, Nadhim Zahawi and Michael Gove have a chance to deliver true levelling up, but it will take more than one policy or initiative to unpick the inequalities behind poor outcomes for some children in education, says NFER's Dr Angela Donkin. More
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In their new roles, Nadhim Zahawi and Michael Gove have a chance to deliver true levelling up, but it will take more than one policy or initiative to unpick the inequalities behind poor outcomes for some children in education, says NFERís Dr Angela Donkin.

Levelling Up

In September, Michael Gove was appointed Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, while Nadhim Zahawi has taken over leadership of the Department for Education (DfE). If these newly appointed ministers are serious about helping schools reduce attainment gaps and pushing through policies that achieve genuine levelling up for students Ė one of the keystones of ASCLís Blueprint for a Fairer Education System (www.ascl.org.uk/blueprint) Ė there is some evidence they could usefully consider. Itís drawn from the body of research we do with schools every year that helps us influence policymakers. 

Some education policies work against levelling up 

The clearest example of genuine levelling up in the education sector is the funding available for tutoring. This tuition, if it is high quality, should support pupils who have fallen furthest behind during the pandemic to recover faster. 

However, there is insufficient funding for pupils to access help across all subjects and in year one, take up was not confined to disadvantaged children, despite schools being encouraged to use it for this specific purpose. 

More worrying is that some recent policy changes, and others proposed, seem to be working against the idea of levelling up. 

The first example is the latest changes to the national funding formula (NFF), which have resulted in a larger rise in funding to schools with more advantaged children. Rather than levelling up, this is a regressive policy. Clearly, if outcomes were equal and advantaged children were falling back, there may have been an evidence base for such a move but we know that, even before Covid, the attainment gaps were widening with more disadvantaged pupils falling further behind. 

Costs of the pandemic hit the disadvantaged 

NFERís research into the impact of Covid on education (tinyurl.com/42fmkxj4) has highlighted how these gaps have grown even wider during the pandemic, while our research into the implications of Covid-19 on the school funding landscape (tinyurl.com/2hdrtt3a) has shown that schools, which were unable to meet unexpected pandemic costs from reserves or recent funding increases, were disproportionately those with higher numbers of disadvantaged children. 

We also need to consider the size of the funding pot. Analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) shows a 9% drop in per pupil spending in real terms from 2009/10 to 2019/20 (tinyurl.com/9xvcxhxp). Given children have suffered so much disruption over the last 18 months, it is clear that now is the time to increase available funds. 

Cuts to apprenticeships 

The second example is illustrated by our work on apprenticeship reforms (tinyurl.com/thwecccm), which shows that these changes have disproportionately hit the numbers of disadvantaged young people starting apprenticeships. The reforms have also resulted in a cut in apprenticeships offered by small companies. 

The proposal to reduce the threshold at which students pay back student loans is another concern. Given that students who go on to earn higher salaries would have started paying back earlier, reducing the threshold means students on lower salaries will now pay more. Itís another regressive move. 

Finally, repackaging existing policies as levelling-up policies is unlikely to make any significant difference unless the new policy is significantly more targeted and generous. We are awaiting the detail on the £3,000 incentive for maths and science teachers but a similar scheme to tackle recruitment issues in certain subjects was scrapped last year. 

Approximately 4.3 million children in poverty 

The wider levelling-up agenda is also linked to improving both education outcomes and others such as mental and physical health. In terms of reducing the attainment gap, schools have limited influence to alleviate the effects of disadvantage and a wider, cross-government effort to reduce disadvantage is needed to tackle the problems. 

However, there are currently 4.3 million children in poverty and 75% of them live in working households (see tinyurl.com/2w48zce4). People on Universal Credit saw their incomes drop by £20 a week in October, while inflation is rising. Insufficient incomes lead to family stress, adverse childhood experiences and a lack of funds to provide wider experiences inside and outside the home, effects that can have a lasting negative impact on a range of education, social and health outcomes Ė and the impact is worse the longer children live in poverty. 

ASCL is right to call for more funding for the Pupil Premium for those in persistent poverty but could more be done to reduce that poverty in the first place and reduce the stress associated with low incomes? (A common question now asked is whether itís possible to ensure workers are paid a living wage before shareholders receive a dividend.) 

There is an urgent need to redress the widening attainment gaps after Covid and for a genuine levelling-up agenda. 

For a Conservative government to pull this off would be a real achievement. We will all be watching Mr Gove and Mr Zahawi closely.  

NFER Direct 

Keep up to date with the latest NFER research and blogs by signing up to NFER Direct Ė a free monthly newsletter: www.nfer.ac.uk/nferdirect  

Dr Angela Donkin 
Chief Social Scientist at the National Foundation for Educational Research