Lancashire aims to break down barriers to education based on where children live - and help white boys who are underperforming at school
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The authority’s cabinet has approved a new three-year education strategy which will see targeted help delivered to those corners of the county that need it most in an attempt to break down “the barriers” to learning that exist in some areas.
Cabinet members were told that pre-existing “significant variations” in outcomes across the county had been exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic - but that these were beginning to be addressed by a shift to increased collaboration between different departments and agencies.
Beginning last year, the new way of working is credited with more vulnerable children being able to remain in school during periods of lockdown home learning for the majority.
Cabinet member for education and skills Jayne Rear said that the new strategy “encompasses our priorities for where we want our children to be in three years’ time [and] will help [them] to all achieve their full potential”.
The document describes how more “tailored” support will be provided by County Hall’s education improvement service depending on the differing needs in different parts of the county. Currently, some children “do much better than others and from different starting points”, cabinet members were told.
Amongst Lancashire’s 12 districts in the county council area - which exclude Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen - four are in the top 50 most deprived in the country: Burney, Hyndburn, Pendle and Preston.
The aim of the policy is for outcomes for Lancashire children to be “good or better” at all stages of their school career and for parents and guardians to feel that local mainstream schools are “identifying and meeting their children's needs” through the early identification of youngsters with special educational needs and provision of the support they require.
However, Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali also called for specific help to support “white boys from deprived areas across Lancashire”, who are underperforming in school.
County Cllr Rear said that the issue was “high on our radar” and would be addressed through the new strategy even though it was not overtly referred to.
The policy sets five “improvement priorities”, focusing on early years education, reducing exclusions and persistent absence from school, reducing home education where it is not deemed “in the best interests” of the child, improving outcomes for vulnerable groups - such as children on free school meals - and increasing the number of young people in education, employment or training.
County-wide, Lancashire’s educational outcomes are broadly in line with national averages.
The meeting heard that there had been a 15 percent increase over the last year in referrals for education, health and care plans [EHCPs] for children with additional needs - and that more staff were being recruited in order to reduce waiting times for such assessments to be carried out, which County Cllr Ali claimed can be between six months and a year.
Meanwhile, Lancashire was identified as retaining the greatest number of local authority maintained schools in England, in spite of widespread academy conversion across the rest of the country over the last decade.
The authority has a specific responsibility to intervene where its own schools are performing poorly, but says that it will attempt to drive "educational excellence" across all categories of school.
LANCASHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL AREA DISTRICTS RANKED BY INDICES OF MULTIPLE DEPRIVATION IN 2019 (out of 317 areas where 1 is the most deprived and 317 the least)
11 - Burnley
18 - Hyndburn
36 - Pendle
46 - Preston
91 - Rossendale
112 - Lancaster
147 - Wyre
178 - West Lancashire
192 - Chorley
198 - Fylde
210 - South Ribble
282 - Ribble Valley