Levelling Up white paper: a preview


1st February 2022

Today’s cross-department press release today has given us a few spoilers about what’s to come from the upcoming ‘Levelling Up’ white paper, due to be released tomorrow. At CfEY, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what this strategy might look like in practice and have been looking forward to the government putting some meat on the bones of one of its favourite slogans. Here are a few things we picked up on:

  1. Education Investment Areas

The government will identify 55 cold spots where school outcomes are weakest, to target investment and support, with 95% of these areas outside the London and South East. These ‘Education Investment Areas’ (EIAs) will be offered teacher retention payments in high-priority subjects (a recycled policy that’s already been announced) and specialist sixth form free schools, set-up to ensure talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds can get a good education. Some of these schools already exist, as discussed in this thread.

We’ve also been looking at how Education Investment Areas have been chosen, given that the Opportunity Areas (OA) scheme didn’t necessarily target areas most in need. Unlike OAs, EIA eligibility rests on a composite measure of attainment from 2017, 2018 and 2019 data, making use of KS2 expected standard in reading, writing and maths at KS2, and Progress 8 at KS4. This should lead to a more targeted allocation of resources.

  1. Motoring on with MAT-isation

The press release also suggests that schools in these Education Investment Areas that have been judged less than ‘Good’ in successive Ofsted inspections could be moved into strong MATs, subject to a spring consultation. MATs have long-been the direction of travel under this government, so it’s unsurprising that they will want to lower the threshold for schools joining these ‘families of schools’. Indeed, this is actually an old (but not implemented) Williamson era policy.

However, our CEO, Joe Hallgarten, is concerned that evidence for the superiority of MATs is limited and that the government should consider the improvement work that can occur through a range of partnerships and interventions.

While the DfE released research concerning the reasons that schools gave for joining (or not joining) MATs back in November 2021, the researchers spoke only with headteachers. This means there is a real gap in knowledge about how teachers  at the chalkface experience the transition into MATs in terms of autonomy, CPD, navigation of new policies, systems, workload etc. This evidence gap should urgently be addressed before the government go full-stream ahead with full MAT-isation

  1. Show me the money

‘Levelling Up’ may be a mainstay of government rhetoric but it seems the public don’t believe the hype. Recent IPSOS MORI polling suggests that Labour actually lead the government on their potential to fulfil the ‘levelling-up’ agenda, suggesting the government have a lot more to do to assure the public they can tackle regional inequalities. Indeed, today’s press release covers a flurry of new announcements but these are light on funding and new money. Announcements like the National Youth Guarantee, focused on youth services and enrichment are welcome, but more detail is needed to understand the true scale of investment, and crucially, how they will be delivered. We look forward to reading the full white paper tomorrow and hope that it will be shortly followed by the long-awaited Schools white paper (the slow, partial release of reports feels a familiar theme).