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Doncaster Chamber Says New Schools White Paper Does Not Take All Children Into Account

The latest Schools White Paper, which is the first to be published in 6 years, explains the government’s plans to drive up English and Maths standards across the country.

Detailing a new “Parent Pledge”, this report lays out key steps that education providers will need to follow in order to support children who are falling behind in those particular subjects. This all feeds into the government’s ambitions that, by 2030, 90% of all primary school students will be achieving expected literacy and numeracy standards and that the national average GCSE grades (again, in English and Maths) will improve.

The White Paper notes that progress in both of these areas has been adversely impacted in recent years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, it highlights the need for helping students catch up so that they are not at a disadvantage later on in life.

Among other things, the report mentions that the minimum school week for all pupils will be increased to 32.5 hours by September 2023, and that Ofsted is going to be tasked with inspecting every single school by 2025.

Additionally, it mentions that faculty themselves will be responsible for identifying students that are falling behind in English and Maths. Having done this, they must then communicate with parents about how their child will be offered further support in those subjects, usually through a combination of extra tuition and progress tracking.

Since it was published, the White Paper has come under criticism for its blinkered emphasis on English and Maths. On that subject, Philippa Barrowcliffe, Head of Education and Business Engagement at Doncaster Chamber said: “Although many of the ideas in the document are sure to be welcomed by parents and schools, there is still a need for the government to widen its perspective when it comes to school delivery.

“The narrow focus on English and Maths attainment will not result in a fully rounded education system that considers individual strengths and attributes, and does not encourage teachers to think about what’s best for their pupils. School is about more than just preparing young people to perform well in tests, it should be about preparing them for the future they have ahead of them.

“While Numeracy and Literacy attainment are undeniably important in this regard, they are not the only things that matter. Employers and further educational establishments see the importance in creative, problem solving, communication and team working skills, to name a few, and our system needs to address these vital abilities. Learning is not a one-size-fits-all concept and it is a shame that the White Paper fails to take this into account.

“There is no reference to any creative subjects here, nor to the arts, sports or indeed the wider curriculum beyond just reading, writing and maths. If the government truly to wants to facilitate the best outcomes for children – and not just for league tables and standardised testing – then they need to broaden their perspective on the purpose of education and its role in shaping our future generations.”

Barrowcliffe continued: “Students are already under intense pressure to do well in school and, for those who aren’t naturally inclined towards academia, this is not going to help. There needs to be more consideration about the wider curriculum and those essential skills and qualities that will help young people lead thriving and happy lives in an ever-changing world.

“On the positive side, the White Paper does propose a new careers programme for primary schools in areas of disadvantage, as well as improved professional development for teachers and leaders on careers education.

“This is one aspect of the report that we wholeheartedly welcome and support. After all, research into early work-related learning is vital for children at an early age and the more meaningful encounters children have with future pathways the less likely they are to be unemployed later in life.

“It is for this reason that we, as a Chamber, have developed a programme of activities for primary schools that aims to engage business with education, by promoting the various career and educational pathways available in Doncaster and beyond.

“In short, the White Paper does show that the government are aware of the difficulties schools have faced over the past few years and are ambitious about addressing them, but their response needs to be tailored for everybody. Otherwise, some pupils will be left behind.”

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