The Greater Manchester Educational Recovery Strategy
Schools face major challenges over the next year or so as they support their students in returning to full-time education. With this as the focus, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority is launching an educational recovery plan to support efforts to address these challenges. The Education & Employment Board, which reports to the Children’s Board, is responsible for the coordination of the plan.
This paper outlines the first phase of a strategy for implementing the plan. This initial phase is ambitious in that it seeks to involve all primary, special and secondary schools across the city region. At the same time, it is cautious in that it is designed in a way that will not add pressure on colleagues in schools during this difficult period.
The implementation strategy will seek to ensure support for all children and young people, paying particular attention to those who are vulnerable to underachievement, marginalisation and exclusion. It is designed in relation to three intended outcomes:
Presence – ensuring that all pupils return to school and attend regularly;
Participation – creating a climate within schools where all pupils feel welcome and valued; and
Progress – developing policies and practices that maximise the achievement of all pupils.
With these outcomes as the focus, the strategy involves the development of ‘pathways to success’. These will help to move knowledge around, crossing borders between local authorities, and involving maintained and voluntary aided schools, academies and free schools. This will build on and strengthen the many partnerships that already exist across the city region.
Drawing on lessons from previous experiences, particularly those that emerged from the success of the London and Greater Manchester Challenge programmes[i], the strategy will be:
- Evidence-based. Quantitative and qualitative data will be used to identify barriers that are limiting the presence, participation and progress of some of our children and young people. At the same time, this will draw attention to effective practices that can be used to address these barriers.
- Driven by a common agenda. Since policies are made at all levels of the education system, not least at the school and classroom levels, effective change requires agreed goals that will bind stakeholders together around a common purpose.
- Led by experienced practitioners. This will require some senior school staff having a wider responsibility for system-level improvement across the city region, not just for their own schools.
- Collaborative. This takes account of research evidence showing that partnerships between schools can help to reduce the polarisation of schools, to the particular benefit of those learners who are marginalized on the edges of an education system[ii].
- Supported by community resources. This will involve the wider community in wrapping itself around the schools to ensure that all children receive effective support from their families and local communities.
- Coordinated by a local steering group. This will be made up of highly experienced school leaders who, working with local authority representatives, will take specific responsibility for determining goals, and implementing and monitoring agreed actions with pace.
Together these six elements will ensure that the implementation strategy is designed in relation to challenges in particular contexts on the assumption that a ‘one size fits all’ approach would not be effective.
An initial phase
During the first phase, the following actions will be taken to kick start the implementation of the strategy:
- Action learning trios will be formed, each made up of schools that serve broadly similar communities, from different local authorities and trusts;
- Using an adapted version of the approach developed through the recent ‘Reaching Out to All Learners’ project[iii], each trio of schools will share experiences and ideas online about how to improve the presence, participation and progress of all of their pupils; and
- Summaries of promising practices that emerge from these discussions will be shared across all schools, via virtual and face-to-face meetings, and written accounts on the website of the Greater Manchester Learning Partnership.
In addition, university researchers will carry out follow-up investigations in relation to what appear to be effective practices that emerge from the work of the action learning trios. In so doing, they will link their findings to international research regarding ways of improving outcomes for disadvantaged learners. Evaluative accounts of these effective practices will be disseminated across the city region, once again using the Greater Manchester Learning Partnership website.
The overall purpose of this inquiry-based approach will be to make available best practices to every learner in all schools across Greater Manchester. At the same time. It will create new relationships between schools that can be further developed in later stages of the strategy, at which point the action learning trios may be linked to form ‘families of schools’ of the sort that proved to be effective during the Greater Manchester Challenge.
Looking to the future, it is anticipated that the further phases of the strategy will be developed based on the findings of what happens in the next few months. This will likely include greater attention on supporting those schools serving particularly vulnerable groups of learners.
An inclusive approach
The pandemic has thrown new light on the urgent need to revisit the challenge of inclusion in education. As we build back better we must ensure that all children are included and engaged in the success of their schools and communities.
It is also important to recognize that there is considerable expertise across Greater Manchester that can be used to make all schools more effective in terms of the presence, participation and progress of all of our children and young people. This implementation strategy sets out to create pathways that will help in making this expertise available to all pupils.
At the same time, it will be critical to link the implementation strategy with other relevant Greater Manchester initiatives, including the Young Person’s Guarantee, developments on mental health and schools, and wider efforts on early years (school readiness), early help in neighbourhoods and wrap around support for families.
Relevant to all of this, a recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies argues that the pandemic threatens to make life worse for the most vulnerable groups in society and concludes that what is now needed is ‘an inclusive recovery’. This strategy for educational recovery provides the basis of such an approach. Given the urgency of the situation, it will be crucial to move forward with pace, with the support of senior officers, elected members from the ten local authorities and government.
Correspondence regarding this paper to: Professor Mel Ainscow CBE, Independent Chair, Greater Manchester Education & Employability Board, Mel_Ainscow@yahoo.co.uk