20 Years’ in the Making – A Vision for Education that is Free, Fair and Equitable

We’re on a mission.

To level up the UK.

And it calls for a major sea change in how we approach equality, opportunity and prosperity within and across the nation.

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3-PART SERIES: New Futures for Schools, Youth & the Arts

:point_right:Click here if you missed the first article in our three-part in-depth series on The Government’s Bold Plan for Levelling Up Culture & Education.:point_left:

We’re on a mission.

To level up the UK.

And it calls for a major sea change in how we approach equality, opportunity and prosperity within and across the nation.

Needless to say, these are big ambitions.

Are you ready?
Are we ready?

When it comes to the educational strand of the Government’s current Levelling Up plan, Sing Education believes there are three fundamental keys to understanding – and participating fully – in this debate…
– Who’s at the head of agenda and shaping the associated policy-making?
– What are the anticipated outcomes for educators, children and families?
– What practical initiatives are being set in motion to remake our landscape?

So let’s take each of these elements in turn.

A “yawning gap” has formed between the attainment of poor children and their richer peers. And we need to act fast because the attainment gap is “a problem we can’t work on quickly enough.”
A young student in a green school uniform is captured mid-song, hands on chest, with a look of concentration and joy, embodying the quote "The most valuable resource on the planet is the human resource" from the Levelling Up White Paper (2022), shared by Sing Education to emphasize the importance of nurturing human potential through education.
A young girl in a school uniform is seated on the floor, clapping her hands with a joyful expression, illustrating the impact of educational enrichment. The accompanying text emphasizes the commitment to elevating children's expectations and aspirations, reflecting Sing Education's ethos as highlighted in the "Levelling Up White Paper (2022)." The design elements and quote underscore the organization's focus on enhancing educational experiences.

Levelling Up Lookback - Who, When and Why?

To begin, who’s at the helm of the levelling up agenda and what is its history?

Look no further than Michael Gove. Leading the Levelling Up charge is our former education secretary,  now serving as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Since 2021, Secretary Gove has exercised broad governmental remit for housing, communities and local government in England, as well as the levelling up roadmap. He inherited the DLUHC and its broad planning powers some 15 years after the department’s initial founding. But notwithstanding the recent appointment, Gove has had a long political career touching on many of these policy areas Some nearly 20 years in total, having entered parliamentary life when he won the Conservative candidacy for Surrey Heath in 2004.

Three years later in 2007, Gove was promoted to the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families – a newly created department set up by Gordon Brown – shadowing Labour’s Ed Balls.

In the role Gove advocated the introduction of a Swedish-style education voucher system, “[where], a little over one in 10 pupils are being educated at the state’s expense in schools that are not run by the state. It is not called a voucher system, but it works along similar lines. The [Swedish] state lets parents choose where to educate their child, and stomps up an annual sum equivalent to what it would cost if the child were at state school. The resulting competition is credited with having forced up standards all round.” (The Independent)

He also advocated Swedish-style free schools, to be managed by parents and funded by the state, with the possibility that such schools would be allowed to be run on a for-profit model. “Gove is a proselytising supporter of the Swedish system, which he wants to import to Britain, but with the added element that if a group of parents wants to start a new school in competition with the state, government will not just shoulder the running cost but put up capital too.” (The Independent).

“Speaking [in 2010] at the Association for School and College Leaders annual conference in London, Gove said: “I want to expand the range of models within state schools and expand the number of children being educated in the state sector.

“I would like to see the percentage of private schools drop. I wouldn’t set an arbitrary target on it, but I would like us to move in that direction. The aim would be have more schools that are socially comprehensive, that is which educate children from a variety of backgrounds.” (The Guardian)

Scheme borrowed from Sweden – The state lets parents choose where to educate their child, and stomps up an annual sum equivalent to what it would cost if the child were at state school. The resulting competition is credited with having forced up standards all round.

The Guardian went on later to report in 2012 that “Michael Gove open-minded over state schools being run for profit,” indicating that the “Education secretary hints at Leveson inquiry that policy would be allowable in second term of Tory-led government.” (The Guardian)

It was also during his Shadow Cabinet term that Gove lamented society had fully failed in their attempt to break the link between social class and school achievement. “Inequality in Britain is so entrenched that “rich, thick kids” achieve more than their “poor, clever” peers even before they start school, the education secretary said today.” (The Guardian)

The backdrop to his statement?

An academies billed moved through Parliament that year.

“Gove [came] under criticism for using parliamentary procedures usually reserved for national emergencies to rush through his academies bill. The bill, which became law today, will pave the way for hundreds more schools to opt out of local authority control and become academies. Gove told MPs he had needed to act fast because the attainment gap was “a problem we can’t work on quickly enough”. (The Guardian)

“We are falling behind … other countries are moving faster ahead. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of our society, the situation is getting worse.”

Thus despite Gove’s extensive career, he was not immune from scrutiny for key viewpoints and policies. This all came to a head in 2013 when his education sector leadership elicited a “vote of no confidence” by four of the major teachers’ unions (Association of Teachers and Lecturers,  National Union of Teachers, National Association of Head Teachers and NASUWT).

A cabinet shuffle in 2014 ultimately led to Gove leaving his position as Education Secretary and being named chief party whip. Following that, he held a series of other key roles under Conservative PMs Cameron, May and Johnson, leading to his nomination to his current post in 2021.

Which brings the DLUHC leadership narrative up to present day.

Now let’s turn to our second line of inquiry.

Levelling Up outcomes for teachers, pupils and communities.

90% at or above standard - Levelling Up Our Schools

Setting forth an ambitious agenda for boosting economic growth, shoring up the nation’s cultural institutions and putting advanced skills and better primary education within the reach of millions – that is the Government’s broad aims for Levelling Up, as described in its 332 page manifesto this Spring.

While acknowledging the underlying robustness of the UK as a Western nation – “It is vital that we preserve and enhance the economic, academic and cultural success stories of the UK’s most productive counties, towns and cities” – the Levelling Up whitepaper also pointed at concerns, suggesting the UK was failing to change in sync with modern times. (DLUHC)

That, in fact, the nation was stagnating in key measures of social mobility, economic growth and innovation, thus at risking of further falling in global competitiveness, while simultaneously creating distinctive, geographic pockets of great opportunity and others of great despair within our very borders.

“Over the past century, many trends have combined to create the spatial patterns seen across the UK today. Globalisation, technological progress, advances in transport, logistics and power, and the shift from heavy industry to knowledge-intensive sectors, as well as the rise of foreign holidays and shift from technical training to university education, have had a large and lasting impact on the economic geography of the UK.” (DLUHC)

When it comes to education, it seems the metrics, timeline and roadmap for Levelling Up are more refined. “The education ‘national mission’ is to ensure 90 per cent of children leaving primary school in England are reaching the expected standard in reading, writing, and maths by 2030.” (DLUHC)

“We are falling behind … other countries are moving faster ahead. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of our society, the situation is getting worse.”

Yet there’s still plenty of room for debate as to these ends will best be achieved. Does that mean more teachers, more class time, more SATS-focused lessons and preparation? Or perhaps a change in teaching methodologies, subject timetables or extracurricular tutoring support? It seems it’s all to play for.

And, why?

Because as reported by Schools Week, “in 2019, just 65 per cent of pupils met all three standards.” (Schools Week) That’s a lot of ground to make up.

Which brings us neatly to question of projects, programmes and proposals. In other words, with this steep hurdle ahead, what new initiatives can we expect?

A joyful educator with outstretched arms is engaging with young students in a classroom setting, embodying the quote "Investing in people to receive the best possible education" from the Levelling Up White Paper (2022). The image conveys a sense of enthusiasm and commitment to educational excellence, as reflected by Sing Education's mission.
A smiling young student in a green school uniform proudly holds a ukulele, embodying the spirit of inclusivity and equal access to music education as highlighted by the quote "No one misses out on opportunities simply because of where they live" from the Levelling Up White Paper (2022), reinforcing Sing Education's commitment to fostering musical talent regardless of geographical location.

National Academy - More than a Covid remedy?

Well, how about a UK National Academy?
What’s that you ask?

While specific details are a bit thin on the ground at the moment, think  online learning designed to supplement classroom lessons. The idea being to use the combination of leading-edge tech, expert pedagogy and pupil/parent/school-led delivery to achieve the holy grail of education – putting academic excellence within the reach of every pupil regardless of background, geography or household income level.

“The [Government’s] white paper pledges the creation of a new ‘UK National Academy’, which will ‘support pupils from all backgrounds and areas to succeed at the very highest levels’.

The new academy will ‘harness cutting edge technology to ensure geography or income is no barrier to being academically stretched beyond the curriculum’.

Developed with ‘schools and experts’ and taught by a ‘diverse range’ of expert teachers, the academy will be ‘made available online to support the work of schools’.

It will be entirely free and ‘used at the choice of headteachers, teachers and parents’.” (Schools Week)

Now if this all sounds familiar, you might be on to something.

Observers have noted the clear parallels between the UK National Academy and Oak National Academy, rolled out during the height of Covid as a supplement to class-based, in-person learning.

“Oak [became] a household name since its launch by a group of teachers at the start of pandemic, providing millions of lessons for pupils at home because of Covid restrictions.

After receiving £500,000 from the government to launch in spring 2020, Oak was handed another £4.3 million to continue providing online lessons into this academic year.” (Schools Week)

The principal of the online Oak National Academy has said he “didn’t expect it to go as big or as far as it’s gone” with new figures suggesting nearly half of teachers have used the [online learning resources].
The uses cases have been varied but there is clear evidence of that rates of uptake were strongest in the areas hardest hit by Covid restrictions. “A poll of 3,000 teachers by Teacher Tapp found 46 per cent have used Oak, which extrapolated across the country, means more than 225,000 staff. …[S]ome schools have used Oak resources to prepare staff due to cover lessons for absent teachers, while others have used them to help with non-Covid-related pupil absences.” (Schools Week)In fact as of December 2020, “[n]ew research [showed] how it helped schools in the worst-hit Covid areas. The top ten areas to use the platform by population are Blackburn, Rochdale, Walsall, Bury, Halifax, Wigan, Bolton, Burnley, Stockton-on-Tees and Dudley – all towns in the north and Midlands.” (Schools Week)That said, the Oak model is not without its critics – particularly when a potential plan for privatisation surfaced, one which had the endeavour been successful, would have handed the publicly-funded enterprise over to a small number of “founder” employees, concurrently offering them a £41 million “entrepreneurial” windfall.Nevertheless, Oak as a way of deploying a very targeted type of educational reform mixed with a new multi-media/multi-disciplinary delivery experience seems to have gone down well with both Government and teachers alike.”The Department for Education wants to take Oak National Academy into public ownership, according to the group behind the project. …[T]he Reach Foundation has announced Oak will ‘stay open and free to use for at least the next two terms’ after the DfE approved another grant worth £2.1 million. It said its online lessons had reached 300,000 pupils in the final weeks of term as Covid rates have grown, more than twice the average usage since schools fully reopened.” (Schools Week)Whether or not the National Academy follows or departs from the Oak model, if it is a success, here are some programme hallmarks you might be able look forward to:
– emphasis on the importance of high-quality teaching
– joint co-production between experts and the community
– pre-prepared resources to support teachers
– instructional videos for self-directed learning.According to TES, “There is much to commend in the principle of the National Academy. Firstly, it recognises that high-quality teaching is fundamental to narrowing the attainment gap and to helping all students to achieve their potential, regardless of their background.Secondly, it is to be “developed jointly with schools and experts”. If consultation and engagement with the sector are at the heart of the proposals to ensure a coherent solution, then there is real potential.There is evidence, too, that shows how helpful an online academy may be in providing high-quality prepared lessons that can be utilised directly by pupils as well as being leveraged by teachers for use with their classes, in the way that Oak National Academy has done so effectively.” (TES)

There are also some obvious pitfalls to watch out for as well…
– the hurdles of combining very different curricula and delivery infrastructure across the four nations
– an overemphasis on clear presentation and explanation in lieu of other critical teaching skills like relationship building and assessment
– lack of focus on improving quality classroom teaching for the vast majority of schools and professionals in favour of promoting a select few “rock star” practitioners online

There is much to commend in the principle of the National Academy. Firstly, it recognises that high-quality teaching is fundamental to narrowing the attainment gap and to helping all students to achieve their potential.

“However, there are a number of barriers to what is proposed, not least the issue that a “national” academy, serving all areas across the UK, would need to take into account very different curricula and existing digital learning setups across the devolved nation.

There is a risk of narrowing the concept of what excellent teaching is – there is no doubt that clear presentation and explanation are vital parts of expertise in teaching, but so, too, is the ability to build relationships, to be responsive to one’s pupils, to gauge learning, provide feedback and plan next steps accordingly.

It is potentially problematic, too, to highlight and venerate a limited number of teachers in a way that might be taken to imply a failing in the rest of the workforce.” (TES)

Win, lose or draw, it is safe to say, given the promise and pitfalls illusrated by its predecessor Oak National Academy, all eyes will be on the consultations, development and rollout of the UK National Academy plan.

Next Up in the Sing Education Levelling Up Series:

:point_right:Click here if you missed the first article in our three-part in-depth series on The Government’s Bold Plan for Levelling Up Culture & Education.:point_left:

Coming Soon…Part III of the Government’s Bold Plans for Levelling Up Culture & Education, where we’ll look at plans for putting the arts, music and culture at the heart of the UK’s roadmap to build ongoing economic and cultural resilience, including how culture can reanimate high streets, how government can support new artistic infrastructure, and what influence creatives can have on local decision making and planning.

To learn more about Sing Education, including how our music provision, online instrumental lessons and at home learning resources contribute to a well-rounded music curriculum, please visit singeducation.co.uk/schools



Gov.uk – Levelling Up the United Kingdom: Executive Summary

Guardian – ‘Rich, thick kids’ achieve much more than poor clever ones, says Gove

Independent – Michael Gove: The modest moderniser

Schools Week – Levelling-up white paper: 9 things schools need to know

Schools Week – DfE seeks public ownership of Oak as budget set to halve next term

Schools Week – Oak principal says he ‘didn’t expect’ its success as data suggests half of teachers use the platform

TES – The good, the bad and the unknown: the potential of a National Academy




About Us

Founded in 2014 and serving more than 9,000 children each week, Sing Education is a first class provider of primary school music education. Focusing on high-quality, singing-led tuition, we deliver a complete solution for schools which includes teacher recruitment, training and management, bespoke curricular resources and educational consultancy services. 

Through music lessons, singing assemblies, choirs, after school clubs and instrumental tuition, Sing Education works with students from Nursery right through to Year 6. Our core philosophy is that “Every Child Has A Voice,” and, as educators active in the classroom, our directors and teachers know firsthand how much young learners benefit from exciting, rewarding music education. 

#SingEducation #MusicChangesLives

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