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Tue, 09 Jul 24 10:00

Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall

By the time you read this, summer will be on its way out and we’ll be inexorably heading into autumn - when ‘leaves chase warm buses’ and directors of children’s services chase treasury officials to get government to realise that a new financial settlement for children is required in November’s Spending Review. More of that anon, I am sure.

I hope that your summer was better than mine, what with both my daughters catching Covid and our holiday plans put in to disarray, but c’est la vie…as I didn’t get to say in France. It did mean though, that my youngest was able to pick up her GCSE results in person, along with thousands of other pupils on results day. Those national results showed an increase in attainment based on teacher assessed grades which, rather than celebrating our children’s resilience, hard work and sacrifice during covid; instead led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth about ‘standards’ by commentators in the media, as I sure you will have seen. At the same time, we saw the world’s Olympians pushing themselves to the limits and challenging world records. So, I suppose that if we apply the same analysis toward the Olympians that many media commentators have applied to our school children, we must conclude that the reason Karsten Warholm smashed the Olympic 400m hurdles world record was not because he was better coached, better trained, or fitter than previous runners; no, it must be because the hurdles are now lower, or the race is actually 20 metres shorter these days!

It must also be said that whilst the media focus was on high attainment, we are already seeing worrying evidence of a growing gap, brought about by the impact of Covid, between the most and the least disadvantaged pupils. That gap must be the key focus for educational recovery.

As we head into the autumn, the role of local authorities vis a vis schools is one that is going to be debated again but perhaps in a more rounded and positive way than hitherto. The Covid crisis has brought into sharp relief the critical role that local authorities play in coordinating, supporting, and challenging schools to ensure that all children get the best possible start in life. Following the Secretary of State’s speech regarding the role of multi-academy trusts, that debate feels live again. Myself, Charlotte our President, Gail Tolley the chair of our Educational Achievement Policy Committee, and other colleagues will be ensuring that our voice is heard loud and clear on this issue along with connecting it to the review of SEND, the outcomes of the Holiday Activity and Food Programme, the future of REACT meetings, education recovery and more. Our policy positions on most of these issues were outlined in 2018 in our ‘vision for an inclusive and high performing education system’ and reading that paper now, with the benefit of Covid hindsight, it seems even more perspicacious.

So, there is plenty to do in this area of our work and I for one am glad that it is back on the agenda, and we can show what we, as local leaders, can do in improving the education system and what more we could do with a few more levers and a bit more co-operation. With this, the care review, the spending review and plenty of other things going on, it’s going to be an interesting autumn, or as F Scott Fitzgerald said in the Great Gatsby, ‘Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall’.

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