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Achieving Educational Excellence in Knowsley – Press Release

31st October 2016

  • ResPublica


Strict Embargo: 00:01 October 31, 2016


White working class children, who currently have the lowest level of educational attainment of any group, are being failed because they are being pushed into further disadvantage, according to a report from the independent think tank ResPublica.

In Achieving Educational Excellence in Knowsley: A Review of Attainment, report authors say limited sixth form provision, a lack of diversity, a ‘start-stop’ syndrome of new initiatives and poor use of resources to help struggling pupils is holding them back in white working class areas like Knowsley.

ResPublica say wholesale change is needed across the education sector nationally; from the way teachers encourage pupils to achieve, to how heads work collaboratively and how schools are funded and run at local and national level.

ResPublica’s report focuses on Knowsley, in Liverpool, where over 95% of the resident population is white British. Over 15 per cent of the working population in Knowsley has no qualifications, compared with the national average of 8 per cent.

ResPublica also says the North and Liverpool City region needs to attract teachers and outlines plans for a “Northern Teaching Premium” which would offer incentives such as paying off their student debts, offering higher wages, subsidised housing or additional continuing professional development and fast track development.

Other proposals include adopting a ‘Team GB’ approach that identifies success both in and out of the classroom, concentrating not only on pupils’ individual academic achievement but also targeting the performance of teachers, the curriculum and the school leadership and management. This would follow the ‘marginal gains’ strategy of the British Cycling Team where small increases in performance across the board lead to overall success.

In the report,  commissioned by Knowsley Council, ResPublica also points to research that found grammar schools, which Theresa May’s government has said it will bring back, are more likely to enable children receiving free school meals to achieve as much as those from middle class backgrounds.

For ‘poor but bright’ pupils, grammar schools can boost their performance by nearly 10 percentage points compared to non-selective schools. Research shows that in 2015, 96.2% of children eligible for free school meals who were high achievers at year six and who went on to a grammar school achieved 5+ A*-C GCSEs. In comparison, nearly 10% fewer (87%) of children eligible for free school meals who were high achievers at year six and who then went on to a non-selective school achieved at that level.

ResPublica says that in order for grammar schools to contribute to making good on pledges to reduce the attainment gap between rich and poor, the Government should ensure grammars are targeted to the most disadvantaged areas, where there are no existing local schools rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted.

Director of ResPublica Phillip Blond said: “For too long white working class children have been left behind by an education system which is not working properly.

“With a new education secretary we have the chance to implement change, not only in Knowsley where we know that improvements need to be made but across the whole of the country.

“Re-introducing grammar schools is potentially a transformative idea for working class areas where there are little or no middle classes to game the admission system. We know that selection improves the performance of those white working class children selected – the trouble is too few of them are. We recommend that new grammars in the first instance are exclusively focused on the needs of white working class children.”

ResPublica calls on the Government to meet with the Council in Knowsley, and school leaders, to learn more about the borough’s transformation programme and work to make the Metropolitan Borough an ‘achieving excellence area’.

The Government should also use the Local Growth Fund to help schools improve academic achievement and therefore increase the economic potential of the surrounding area, the think tank says.

Despite improvements in recent years, Knowsley is currently the lowest performing authority in the country for pupils achieving the government’s benchmark of five A*to C grade GCSEs, including English and Maths.

The council has recently established an Education Commission in Knowsley, investing £1 million to set it up with the aim of bringing together stakeholders to help improve educational attainment across the borough.

ResPublica points to successes seen in London, where changes to the way schools set and achieve their aims have worked. This has included encouraging better performance between early years and Key Stage 2 and narrowing the gap between affluent and disadvantaged pupils. Of particular note, ResPublica says, attainment for White Working Class students has improved in London.

In 2014, the House of Commons Education Committee reported that: “White children who are eligible for free school meals are consistently the lowest performing group in the country, and the difference between their educational performance and that of their less deprived white peers is larger than for any other ethnic group.”

However, the report added that “improvements in London’s educational performance suggest that the problem of white working class underachievement in education can be tackled.”

Report author and Principal Research Consultant at ResPublica Mark Morrin said: “Setting higher targets for schools and encouraging them to achieve more has been shown to work. This does not mean putting all the pressure on teachers – government, councils and parents all have a role to play and must be involved in the education process from start to finish.

“Knowsley is looking for change and if successful this could work as a benchmark across the country.”

The report recommendations include:


*The Government should ensure that any future grammar schools target the most disadvantaged areas, where there are no existing local schools rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted.

*The Secretary of State for Education should meet with the Council and school leaders to learn more about the borough’s transformation programme and consider Knowsley becoming an ‘achieving excellence area’.

*The Secretary of State should use her new involvement in the Local Growth Fund process to advocate for additional resources and support for a ‘Knowsley Challenge’ pilot.

Local Education Authority

*A Schools Senior Management Learning Network for secondary school Heads and senior management teams should be convened.

*The LEA should investigate how Knowsley Council and the Archdiocese could establish their own primary school academies chain to ensure continuing high quality education provision feeds into the established secondary academies.

Education Commission

*The Commission should seek to establish a North West Improvement Board with counterparts in the Liverpool City Region to design an improvement cycle and take responsibility for monitoring it.

*The Commission should develop a dedicated campaign to promote schools’ efforts on transformation, their improvements and journey to date.


*All schools should adopt a ‘Team GB’ approach that identifies the inputs, tracks implementation and monitors progress.

*Primary schools should aim to achieve the aspirational target of level 5 (or new equivalent – Age Related Expectations) at KS2, as an evidence-backed route to laying the foundations for good GCSE performance at secondary school.

Liverpool City Region

*The LCR should scope a ‘Northern Teaching Premium’ to attract quality teachers to the region through incentives.

*The LCR should bid into the new round of local growth funding with a focus on the role of education in addressing the local skills deficit.

*The LCR should review the devolution deal asks to assess the role of education in contributing to economic performance.

Welcoming the report, Neil Carmichael, Chair, Education Select Committee, said: “The referendum on Europe has brought the challenges facing the UK, and in particular, the North of England, into sharp relief.  I believe the next few years will be tough but if we take action to improve numeracy and literacy in our workforce, improve social mobility and can confront the causes of the productivity gap between the UK and our competitors in order to make the best use of the talents and be ready to make the necessary sacrifices, we can all try and make a success of the decision to leave the European Union.  Much of this rests on improving the outcomes for pupils in all our schools.

“For some time there has been a feeling the white working class have been left behind by the education system.  The Education Select Committee highlighted these concerns in a report in June 2014 and this study into the Knowsley area sadly confirms the continuing scale of that problem. Much more must be done to support these deprived communities, and I welcome ResPublica’s call for a renewed focus on both local and national solutions.”


Notes to the editors

  1. In her first speech as Prime Minister Theresa May announced her mission to lead a one nation Government, to tackle social injustice and make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for everyone. In addressing the concerns of working families directly the Prime Minister pledged to fight the ‘burning injustice’ which means that: “If you’re a white, working class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university. If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately.”
  2. In 2105 the Education Policy Institute found that 96.2% of children eligible for free school meals who were high achievers at year six and who went on to a grammar school achieved 5+ A*-C GCSEs. In comparison, nearly 10% fewer (87%) of children eligible for free school meals who were high achievers at year six and who then went on to a non-selective school achieved at that level.
  3. House of Commons Education Committee report June 11, 2014:
  4. According to the 2011 census Knowsley is one of the least culturally diverse authorities in England and Wales, over 95 per cent of the resident population are White British.
  5. The ResPublica Trust is an independent non-partisan think tank. Through research, policy innovation and programmes, ResPublica seeks to establish a new economic, social and cultural settlement. In order to heal the long-term rifts in this country ResPublica aims to combat the concentration of wealth and power by distributing ownership and agency to all, and by re-instilling culture and virtue across the economy and society.
  6. To arrange interviews please call Nick Drainey on 07711 441 707 or email

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