North East is failing to prioritise education according to expert

Education is still not regarded as a priority in the North East of England, according to a report for the Think Tank Policy North by Les Walton, Chair of the Northern Education Trust.

The report came after it was revealed Newcastle City Council to appoint £95,000-a-year education chief to improve schools’ standards in the city.

In his report, Mr Walton, a leading education consultant in the region and former head teacher, asks “The North East of England is increasingly described as lagging behind the rest of the UK with regard to education. The simple question I am posing is do we care less about the education of children than the rest of the country?”

The former head teacher, who was born and raised in Rowlands Gill, achieved national recognition for his work as head teacher of Norham Community Technology College, in North Shields, one of the first community specialist colleges in the UK.

In 2002 Les was appointed as chief executive and principal of North Tyneside College. He then created Tyne Metropolitan College through the merger of two large colleges. The amalgamation was described as ‘exemplary’ by the Department for Education.

Mr Walton goes on to say challenge those who criticise the region’s schools, without offering solutions to the problems they face. “National figures who should know better seem to see ‘failing schools’, ‘failing pupils’ existing in ‘failing regions’. When they talk about the lack of good mathematics and English teachers they do not see their own part in the system which creates such a shortage.” says Mr Walton.

As well as warning of a “brain drain” of talented young teachers to other parts of the country, Mr Walton warns that the North East is not doing enough to embrace the technology of the future.
“So 4G Technology, 3D computer aided design, virtual reality should be blowing our education system out of the water. Yet we continue with a system designed in an age when instruction was dominant and chalk and slate were king. The ‘good old days’ are still considered good today.”

Chiefly Mr Walton warns more needs to be done to tackle school standards in the region, saying “Education as a topic is not right up front in our north eastern mentality.”

Mr Walton, chair of the Northern Education Trust, a large and influential academy sponsor based in the North East has previously spoken of his belief in the difference academies can make to standards in the region. “I believe academies are an enhancement of local authority-run schools. When I wrote the guidelines for North Tyneside Council in the 1990s I said the role of the local authority is to manage and encourage autonomous schools. We want schools and their staff to have the self belief that they can manage their own destinies. I want children in the North East to be like that, to manage their own destinies and to have their own self belief.”

Commenting on the report chairman of Policy North, Stephen Purvis said “Les raises some very important questions for the North East. We need new approach to delivering excellent education for all our young people across the North East. Failure cannot be accepted and we must raise the aspirations of our young people, there should be no limit on their ambition. That is the real challenge we face.”

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