North East Devolution and Levelling Up

Levelling up boost for North East schools

Schools in six of the North East region’s 12 local authorities will get a levelling-up boost from a new package of measures announced by the government today to support education and training in England.

County Durham, Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, South Tyneside and Sunderland are among 55 areas in England where school outcomes are the weakest being targeted for investment, support and action that help children from all backgrounds and areas to succeed at the very highest levels, according to the Department for Education (DfE).

They are being identified as Education Investment Areas (EIAs) where the Department says the measures will also boost take-up of high-quality training and support stable families that help children to succeed.

The DfE will offer retention payments to help schools in EIAs to keep the best teachers in the highest priority subjects. These areas will be prioritised as the locations for new specialist sixth form free schools where there is limited provision to ensure talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to the highest standard of education the country offers.

Schools in areas that have been judged less than Good in successive Ofsted inspections could be moved into strong multi-academy trusts to attract more support and the best teachers. This will be subject to a consultation in the spring.

The Levelling Up White Paper to be published tomorrow and which will include the EIA announcement will set a new national mission to ensure that 90% of children leaving primary school in England are reaching the expected standard in reading, writing and maths by 2030. In 2019, just 65% of pupils met all three standards, with the proportion substantially varying across the country.

Schools in the EIAs will also be given support to address wider issues, said the DfE. For instance, schools struggling with attendance will be encouraged to join a new pilot programme to tackle the issue.

As 95% of EIAs are outside London and the South East, said the DfE, it is the struggling schools of the North, Midlands, East of England and South West that will be receiving much more support over the next decade.

Today’s announcement by the DfE included a list of other specific measures:

A National Youth Guarantee, backed by £560m, will mean that every young person in England will have access to regular clubs and activities, adventures away from home and volunteering opportunities by 2025.

An extra £200m is also being invested in the Supporting Families programme to help create strong, stable families where children thrive, helping to improve the lives of up to 300,000 vulnerable families.

A new skills mission will help improve people’s lives and boost the economy, targeting 200,000 more people to help them complete high-quality training each year by 2030, including 80,000 more completing courses in areas with the lowest skills levels.

Thousands more adults will soon be able to access free, flexible training and get the skills needed to secure careers in sectors including green, digital and construction as part of up to an additional £550m boost to expand Skills Bootcamps across the country. Prisoners can also now take advantage of Skills Bootcamps as part of a new trial to support them to find work on their release, levelling up opportunities for more people.

The plans to be published tomorrow will also set out the government’s commitment to making Institutes of Technology the pre-eminent organisation for technical STEM education in England, through which successful ones may apply for a Royal Charter. This, according to the DfE, will help secure their long-term position as anchor institutions in their regions, placing them on a par with the UK’s world-leading historic universities.

The government will also aim to double the capacity of the Supported Internship programme to provide thousands more young people who have additional needs with the skills to secure and sustain paid employment. Backed by £18m over three years, the programme will additionally drive up the standards and quality of internship delivery across the country for students who have an Education Health and Care Plan.

Children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), their families and caregivers will be better supported with respite care and internship opportunities. Councils will be funded with £30m for the next three years to set up more than 10,000 additional respite placements, helping to provide positive opportunities for disabled children and young people and to give family carers a break.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said the Levelling Up White Paper

‘sets out our blueprint for putting skills, schools and families at the heart of levelling up. It focuses on putting great schools in every part of the country, training that sets you up for success in a high-skilled, well-paid career and ensuring no one misses out on opportunities simply because of where they live or their family background.

‘Raising our expectations and aspirations for children, as well as creating a high-skilled workforce, will end the brain drain that sees too many people leaving communities in order to succeed. These plans will help create a level playing field and boost the economy, both locally and nationally’.


Critics of the government have already pointed out that at least some of today’s measures are a repackaging of previous announcements, while others say they are not enough or not what is required.

National Association of Head Teachers general secretary Paul Whiteman told the Daily Mirror: “The significant and additional challenges that schools in some parts of the country face are undeniable. Those schools and the pupils they serve certainly deserve extra support.

“Sadly, this announcement appears to fall short of what those schools and communities really need. What is needed is not another set of arbitrary targets, but a proper plan to ensure that every child has the very best start to life.’

According to inews, the teacher retention payments announced today are part of a levelling-up premium announced by the Prime Minister at the Conservative Party conference and itself a variation on a set of early career payments launched by the DfE in 2019.

The measures detailed above, as far as they are costed, appear to represent an investment of £1.520bn, though not all over the same number of years. In at least one case a programme is due to run until 2030. As just noted, however, some critics doubt that this is all ‘new money’ – a doubt reinforced here yesterday when a levelling-up announcement concerning brownfield sites and house-building turned out to be not as new as at first appeared.

The DfE’s overall budget is set to rise by only 2.2% annually in the years to 2024-25, compared with an overall increase in departmental expenditure limits of 3.3%. According to the Treasury Select Committee’s report on the Autumn 2021 Budget and Spending Review:

‘While some departments which had been significantly disrupted by the pandemic, such as the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Transport, received large increases, the Department for Education, which was also affected by the pandemic, did not receive such a generous settlement. School funding per head has only now returned to 2010 levels following the latest Budget’.

Neverheless, for all the reservations, today’s EIS announcement is very welcome. Education and skills are regarded by this website as the top priority for levelling up the North East, alongside improvements to local public transport to connect workers and students to workplaces and colleges. While the policy details will be debated and the funding level contested, the focus on education and training offers hope for the future to some of the North East’s most deprived communities. What is more, the government’s insistence on concentrating resources on those parts of the region with devolution deals seems to have been set aside on this occasion at least in favour of an objective selection methodology. Half the local authorities are not in areas with devolution deals.