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Baroness Barran MBE: SAAS 2023 Ministers' Address

Schools & Academies Show London 2023 
Opening Keynote from Baroness Barran MBE, the Minister for the School System and Student Finance

Baroness Barran MBE, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System and Student Finance, took to the Main Stage at the Schools & Academies Show London 2023 to deliver a keynote address. 

Her speech focused on key areas within her ministerial portfolio, including the Academies and Regulatory Commissioning Review and Education Investment Areas and their role in supporting system-led improvement. 

Couldn't make the show? Not to worry, as the session is now available to listen to on-demand below! 



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Stephen Morales:
Good morning colleagues, and welcome to the London School and Academies Show. Yesterday evening, we started this celebration of education with an intimate gathering of sector leaders, speakers, education media, representatives of other sector bodies, and key stakeholders. And we were privileged to enjoy performances from talented young people, actually some very some young people that were from quite disadvantaged backgrounds that are part of the BRIT School. And they, entertained us for about 30 minutes. And that was followed by the Shadow Education Minister, Bridget Phillipson, offering a Labour perspective on our education system. And I think it'll be interesting to contrast what Bridget was talking about yesterday, and what the Minister says this morning. We hope that today you enjoy the breadth of a rich and stimulating range of content and opportunities to network with your peers. It goes without saying that we find ourselves in a period of extreme challenge, I can't remember in my 20 or so years in education a more turbulent time, or indeed as much disquiet as I'm experiencing. And I think it's fair to say that there are a number of things that are completely out of our control. Certainly, we know, we have no idea when the war in Ukraine will end. The economic downturn is causing challenges, not just for us domestically, but globally. And we're seeing the ongoing unprecedented cost of energy and high inflation. However, I believe it's right that government pause at this critical time and ask itself a few really important questions. And by the way, these are not questions that I'm posing. These are the questions that the sector is posing. And there are four fundamental questions I think we need answers to; is there sufficient funding so that we can strive to be that world class system that was referred to in the White Paper? Do we really recognize and reward education practitioners as the true professionals that they are? I think any high performing education system in the world does that. Is there sufficient investment in our crumbling school Estate? And finally, and I think this will resonate for a lot of colleagues in the room, are current accountability frameworks, proportionate and fit for purpose?

Stephen Morales: During the course of today, you're going to hear a range of responses to these questions. And hopefully, you'll hear from the Minister and indeed, colleagues from the Department, in terms of their plans to tackle some of these very high-priority items. Before I finish, I'd like to take the opportunity to announce that the Institute of School Business Leadership is today launching revised School Business Leadership Professional Standards. And this follows an extensive period of consultation to secure the full endorsement and I say, without reservation, the full endorsement of all sector bodies, unions, relevant professional bodies, and the department. If you want to find out more about professional standards, and how they apply both to School Business Professionals, and employers, then take a look at our stand on in C6, and you can register for a copy of those revised standards. So have a wonderful day. Enjoy the debate. Hopefully it will be sufficiently stretching and stimulating but also the opportunity to have your say, and I'm hoping I'm now able to hand over to Minister Baroness Baron, but I'm not sure she's in the room yet. She is. Okay. Hello, hello. So when you're ready to take the stage I'll hand the platform over to you, Minister.

Baroness Barran:
Wow, it's bright up here. Good morning, everyone. Thanks so much for coming. And it's a real pleasure to be here before you and share a few thoughts. I luckily walked in just in time to hear the four questions. So I'm not sure whether we'll get a chance maybe to talk about some of them. But I was going to start with acknowledging the very tough environment that we are in. With inflation, where it is, obviously all of us hope it's going to come down. But it's been a very brutal shock to everybody's budgets, with the ongoing industrial action, and the pressure that that puts on all of you and on our students with the recruitment challenges, and of course, very importantly, with attendance, still being so hard to get back to the levels that we saw, pre-COVID. But I think addressing one of the earlier questions, I just do want to underline that, certainly in the department and this team of ministers were crystal clear about the extraordinary job that our teachers, leaders support staff, all do.

Baroness Barran:
And every time I go and see a school, I just wish that everybody had a chance to visit schools to witness the skill and the care and the expertise that teachers bring to educating our children. I also want to recognize the value that so many of our school trusts bring to the system, particularly in the area of sponsoring schools that have been struggling, but also for the capacity that they bring more broadly, to our sector. And perhaps to address the funding point head on. That is why we managed to secure an additional 2 billion pounds of funding for 23/24. And again, for 24/25. With as you know, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, being clear that this was the highest per pupil funding in real terms, in 24/25. Just on a slightly more positive note, I would like to celebrate the fact that England is now fourth in the PIRLS Survey of Reading and thank all our primary school teachers and early years staff for their contribution to that, it really is not every day as a minister that you read about in on the front page of The Times about England leading the Western world, in this area. So it's a good moment to pause and reflect on some good news as well as all the difficulties. I spoke virtually at this conference in Birmingham, in the autumn, and those of you who were there and even vaguely remember anything I said, might have a chance to snooze slightly, because I'm going to touch on some of the same themes that I talked about then because they remain our absolute focus. Although I think it's fair to say that with the work that we did with you as a sector, on the regulatory and commissioning review, some of those themes have evolved a bit and I hope you will agree in a good way.

Baroness Barran:
So the three things I wanted to just say, which I think are pretty much the same as last time around is our relentless focus is on quality and I could talk for hours and you're safe in the knowledge that I won't talk for hours. But I could talk for hours about why that really, really matters. And I will talk a little bit more in a moment. Secondly, and this is perhaps where some of the shift has come through in our thinking in the department and came through loud and clear from the sector was that as well as our role in regulation, which is important, there's a really important role to support school trusts to develop and mature and improve their quality. So if we can be a bit clearer about what we mean by quality, and put in support to help trusts achieve that quality, then we can achieve very different outcomes for our children, and also ensure there's a kind of working environment that is really attractive and supportive for staff. And the third thing is just the urgency of what we do. And the third thing is just the urgency of what we do. And, you know, I don't need to tell you this. But I'm always just think about these kids have one chance in school. And the sooner we get it right, the better it is for them. And they are who we're all here for. So in terms of quality, the first thing I think that has struck me is that quality really is deliverable everywhere. And it isn't just about outcomes and results and SAT scores and progress 8 and so on. But they do really, really matter. And I always feel that the most marginalized child needs to have the best possible results on their CV, to overcome some of the disadvantages that they inherited through no fault of their own. And when I look at every local authority in the country, and we've divided it up, just looking at quartiles of performance, every single local authority delivers incredible education for children. And every single local authority has a group of schools that I think are underperforming, even when we adjust for disadvantage, and other metrics. So I really believe we can do it. And when we dig further into the data, we find that we can also do it for the most disadvantaged children, for children with special educational needs and disabilities. And that includes looking at destination data, looking at enrichment programs that trusts offer the pupils in their schools, but we have now published our draft trust quality descriptions, I would encourage any of you who've got time to have a look, they're not terribly long. But we do want to get them right. So we've consulted extensively and engaged extensively, with all parts of the sector on them, but equally, you know, fresh pair of eyes, for those of you who weren't involved, we would really value and I hope what comes through because we tried really hard to do this is to stress as much the culture of a trust, and what a quality culture looks like, as well as some of the harder metrics.

Baroness Barran:
Turning to the regulatory and commissioning review a bit more, you will know that we worked on it for a while, we delivered our report slightly later than we'd hoped. But when probably not the first review for that to have happened to, and in that we've started to talk about our commissioning framework so that when we're taking decisions, either about sponsorship conversion, trust mergers, or potentially new trusts forming, we've got as transparent an approach as possible, because what we heard from all of you was it felt like it was a kind of, at best a black box, and at worst, a kind of list of the friends of the regional director. And I think, you know, we would say that's not what it feels like on our side of the fence. But if that's what it feels like, on the other side of the fence, we have to address that. And anyway, I think transparency is a good thing. And we are working, trying to combine where they exist and where they're helpful, some quantitive metrics with qualitative judgment and I can't underline enough, the quantitative stuff is not going to be a kind of algorithm that sends people to the top or the bottom. It is to push us to make sure that we are always objective in our decisions, and that it pushes us to ask good questions before we make decisions. In no case, in the framework does achieving a quantitative metric mean that you, you know, pass go collect 200 pounds, get a new school. It doesn't work like that. And I just want to underline that because I know there's a huge amount of concern about it. But equally, it does help us ask questions and understand in a more nuanced way. The other things we've been trying to do and we'll be announcing more about is we've worked very closely with chief executives and chief financial officers from the sector to try and streamline the academy trust handbook. So one of the joys of the now long lamented school spells, some not so lamented, but anyway, we'll leave that, was that I went through and looked at how, you know, line by line, the academy trust handbook. And what was clear was minister by Minister, we kind of put in a bit more detail and a bit more tightening of the requirements. And I just felt we should step back a bit, and strip it back where we could, so you will be seeing some new things in the handbook, principally around school capital and the responsibilities of responsible bodies around capital where we felt there wasn't enough in but overall, you will see a slimmer, shorter, friendlier handbook. And we've tried very much, I think it'll be a significant change this year, more change next year, there are some things we just can't implement quickly enough. So that's another important change.

Baroness Barran:
And then the other thing we heard from all of you was as well as our case by case intervention and wanting transparency on that, that you wanted us to be a bit more strategic, and you will appreciate there's a really important, it's not even a delicate line. It's like a big fat line. I think, what we don't want in Whitehall are sitting there going, right? How many trusts should we have in Cornwall, who should they be, we don't want that kind of top down planning. We want the system to be more agile and more organic. Having said that, we also know that having clusters of schools has many benefits for pupils, for staff, and for the trust's running them geographic clusters. And so we do have an opportunity now, with the trust development statements that we've announced for the education investment areas. And with the intervention powers in schools that have been judged to be requires improvement or below, twice or more. So there are currently or sorry, in March, there were 634 Inadequate schools in the country, with around 276,000 pupils in them. The two RI plus schools bring an additional 863 schools and 374,000 pupils. So it's just an opportunity for us to think a bit more strategically potentially broker groups of schools, as well as school by school by school. And one of the things that was picked up in the media when we announced the review, which in one way made me smile. Another way slightly made me growl, was the headline was about how we were going to intervene in failing trusts. And since we'd written a document, which tried to say support on every page, it was slightly jarring that that was the focus, but where schools are in trusts and doing really materially worse than their neighbours in the same area, with the same demographic, the same pool of teachers, and so on, we will look to see whether we have the powers to move those trusts into a better home. And just to give you an example, there are multiple places around the country, where there are 35-40 percentage points difference between the highest performing and the lowest performing trusts in the same town with the same demographic and I think for those children in primary, that's unacceptable. And then the final thing in terms of support beyond some of the money stuff which I know you will have seen and TCaF announcement is that we will be running, I think, a really great CEO development program starting early next year with a combination of face to face training, but also big immersive elements shadowing some of our best CEOs in their trusts. And we think that is a real game changer for those of us who perhaps have aspirations to take on more schools. And, you know, would really enjoy and benefit from a course like that. It's been designed by a number of trust leaders led by Nick Weller, who chaired the board who developed it. And I think it looks fantastic. If I wasn't doing this, I would love to go on it.

Baroness Barran:
So just in finishing, the challenge for us now is implementation. So we all know, it's one thing to write things down on a piece of paper in a shiny DfE document. And it's quite another thing to make them work on the ground. So we will test as much as we can, we will iterate with all of you we are, we've got quite an ambitious program of workshops led by our Regents group all around the country, which I'd really encourage you to take part in, because I hope you will feel your benefit from understanding our thinking in a bit more depth. But also, we will really benefit from your reflections and observations. Our goal is to create the most resilient and highest performing system for our children and our teachers that we can, we think this is one step on the road. It's not the final destination. But it's a sensible next step. For a sector that is relatively young and relatively immature. There's a million other things I could have talked about. But I just felt it was important to focus on that aspect, but happy to take broader questions to the extent that I'm able to answer them. Thank you all so much.