The government has been accused of a ‘missed opportunity’ after its long-awaited schools white paper was ‘silent’ on how to reduce and end child poverty.
The Opportunity for All white paper was released yesterday, containing a host of new achievement goals, commitments on academy accountability and new incentives for attracting and retaining teachers.
There was a wide, if cautious, reception for the paper in the local authority and school sectors – including from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS).
President Charlotte Ramsden said: “We welcome the government’s commitment to ensuring that all children reach their full potential in a stronger and fairer school system, and that they receive the right support at the right time.
“We all need to be ambitious for our learners and this white paper sets out the government’s ambition for all children to have access to a high quality education: inclusiveness and meeting the needs of all learners must be at the heart of that.”
She added that the ADCS supported the Out-of-School Children’s Register project and said there were ‘welcome proposals’ about giving local authorities the powers to order trusts to admit pupils without a place. at school.
But Ms Ramsden was scathing about the apparent absence of strategies to tackle child and family poverty.
She said: “Despite the description of areas of investment in education for areas where education performance is weakest, the document is silent on the impact of poverty and does not include strategies to reduce and ultimately eliminate child and family poverty.
“Given what we know about the impact of this on children’s ability to learn in the first place, this is a missed opportunity and a barrier to progress.”
As LGC reported yesterday, councils will have the power to set up Multi-Academy Trusts (Mats) and the government wants all schools to participate or be in the process of joining a Mat by 2030.
Under what the government has called the Parent Commitment, 90% of primary school children are expected to reach the target standard in Key Stage Two reading, writing and mathematics by 2030. In 2019, only 65% of children succeeded.
Another target is for the national average GCSE score in English and Maths to rise from 4.5 in 2019 to 5 by 2030, while schools will have to offer a minimum school week of 32.5 hours by September 2023 .
Ms Ramsden expressed the hope that the results of the white paper would include closing the achievement gap and reaching every child.
She said: “Our current school system is fragmented and overlaid with an accountability system that does not reward inclusive practices.
“This has led to an increase in school exclusions and a widening achievement gap between the most disadvantaged children and their peers. We hope the actions outlined in this document will lead us towards a more cohesive system that works for all children, whatever their needs, wherever they live.”
Ms Ramsden said the ADCS fully supports the council-run multi-academy trusts, which provide a “new and exciting opportunity for local schools to stay in the local government family and maintain vital local ties”.
She added: “Local authorities will continue to work in partnership with all schools, regardless of their governance, so that every child can learn in the environment that best meets their needs.
“In our view, this is a new future with clearly defined roles, responsibilities and associated responsibilities for everyone involved. It is only right that the new proposals for all schools to be part of a strong multi-academy trusts come with a commitment to review accountability and regulatory mechanisms for trusts”.
The white paper emphasizes support for the mental health of children and young people, in part because of the upsurge in problems since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ms. Ramsden said: “Education is not just about gaining skills; it is also about promoting resilience and well-being and supporting children who need it most.
“Schools are hubs at the heart of our communities, providing a safe place where all children and young people can grow and learn. It is therefore right that curriculum reform centers the needs of today’s children and that schools can access mental health training amid a rising tide of mental health issues facing children and young people.
“We must ensure that no child is left behind: we are ready to work with the government and all actors in the system to achieve this.”