Last reviewed 8 April 2022

In the knowledge that a White Paper is not legislation but spells out the intentions and aspirations of the Government, Michael Evans looks at some of its hopes for the future.

Hopes for the future

On Monday 28 March 2022, following months of speculation, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi’s long-awaited schools White Paper was finally published. Entitled Opportunity for All: Strong Schools with Great Teachers for Your Child, it sets out the Government’s vision for schools until 2030.

Following the damage done to schools by the pandemic, there were high hopes that the White Paper would come up with some revolutionary ideas. Although it says quite a lot in its 60 pages, it is sometimes difficult to find much that is fresh.

Ambitious goals

The White Paper has two “new ambitions”. The first is for a target that has already been set, for 90% of children leaving primary school to have the expected standard in reading, writing and maths. The other “ambition” is a new one, to increase the national GCSE average grade in both English language and maths from 4.5 to 5. The bulk of the White Paper sets out ways that these two ambitions might be achieved.

There is much emphasis on the intention to raise standards in schools, with an aim of ensuring strong schools staffed with excellent teachers who will provide every child with targeted support in English and maths. Since it is important for every child to reach their full potential, there must be high standards in terms of curriculum, behaviour and attendance.

Teachers in all state funded schools will receive support in developing their expertise in managing behaviour and wellbeing through a fully-funded National Professional Qualification in Behaviour and Culture.

More time in school

There will be an expectation that 32.5 hours will be the minimum length of a school week in all mainstream state-funded schools, but since a 32.5 hour week is already usual for most schools, this is expected to have a limited impact.

Face-to-face education is regarded as being of paramount importance for children’s academic, social and emotional wellbeing. Following a recent consultation with parents, teachers and “others”, new legislation will be introduced setting out clear expectations for staff, pupils and parents, giving the processes to be followed regarding cases of absence and the support that should be offered.

Targeted support

There will be financial incentives for schools to provide additional targeted support for pupils who are falling behind in English and maths. The hope is that tutoring will become embedded in every school. There will be a “Parent Pledge” that any child who falls behind will get the necessary support to get them back on track.

The special educational needs and disability (SEND) and Children’s Social Care Systems will be reformed in order that the 15% of children who have an identified SEND need are able to access the right support in the right place at the right time. There will be £2.6 billion high needs capital invested to provide 34,000 additional specialist or alternative provision-free places. This will include new special and alternative provision free schools.

To give teachers the expertise and support that will be necessary to ensure great teaching, 500,000 teacher training and development opportunities will be delivered across Initial Teacher Training, the Early Career Framework and National Professional Qualifications by 2024.

A new National Professional Qualification for Leading Literacy will enable schools to have a trained literacy expert. Up to £180 million will also be invested in the early years workforce, to include literacy and numeracy training.

Every school will have access to funded training for a senior mental health lead to deliver a whole-school approach to health and wellbeing.

Starting salaries are to rise to £30,000 to ensure that the best teachers are attracted to the profession and there will be further financial incentives for those who work in the schools with the greatest need. The White Paper also proposes that experienced teachers will receive their highest pay rise in over 15 years.

Increase in academy status

There is also a promise that by 2030 all schools will be in or moving towards multi-academy trusts (MATs), with a single regulatory approach. It envisages that most trusts will be on a trajectory to serve a minimum of 7500 pupils or a minimum of at least 10 schools.

While most of the 3500 English secondary schools are already academies, the majority of the 16,800 primaries are not. Just 44% of mainstream English schools have made the switch. When this move was suggested six years ago there was furious opposition to the suggestion that high performing schools would be forced to become academies.

It has already been announced that the Government wants to move any school to a MAT following two consecutive “requires improvement” judgements from Ofsted.

The Government has previously announced that it will make £86 million available to grow and strengthen MATs over the next three years, with particular focus on schools in the 55 Education Investment Areas.

Mixed reactions

While the Government has understandably been very enthusiastic, the White Paper has received mixed reactions from senior educational leaders.

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, commented that the White Paper “does not reflect the mistakes of the past, does not address the problems of the Covid-19 present and does not have the answers for the future”. She felt that this was “not the vision of education recovery which is needed in England”.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that although the White Paper contained some “helpful and promising” measures, in general it was “mechanistic and lacking in ambition.”

Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that school leaders are at the moment focused on managing immediate challenges and should not be asked to spend precious capacity in extended conversations about such matters as structural reform.

He pointed out that quite a few of the proposals and goals contained in the paper are very long-term in nature, with frequent references to 2030 and there will be at least two general elections and the potential for several new secretaries of state for education.

Summary

  • High hopes for some revolutionary ideas.

  • A predicted 90% of children to leave primary school with expected standards in reading, writing and maths and national GCSE average grades in English language and maths to increase from 4.5 to 5.

  • A longer day and better attendance. A standard 32.5 hour week and new legislation with respect to school absence.

  • Targeted support for SEND and professional development for teachers. Reform of SEND to provide additional provision and added support for teachers.

  • A promise for all schools to be in or moving towards academy trusts by 2030.

  • Mixed reactions. Great enthusiasm from the Government, but more muted enthusiasm elsewhere.