NCB's response to Education White Paper

NCB supports a world-class education system that empowers every child to fulfil their potential. For decades we have known that children who are more vulnerable, including those with special educational needs and disabilities, children from poorer backgrounds, and those who are Looked After, do not do as well as they should. Now, two years of disrupted learning has widened the gap between these children and their peers even further[1], and there is an increasing recognition that children’s mental health has been more adversely affected by the pandemic than any other age group[2].

Today’s announcements offer some hope that we are moving in the right direction. But there is still a chasm between the resources needed to support ‘educational recovery’, as recommended by the government’s own expert adviser Sir Kevan Collins, and the amount the government has actually made available. Our children, who have been so profoundly affected by the pandemic, deserve better

To truly deliver the transformation in outcomes it seeks, the government must go much further than outlined in this White paper and address the structural barriers and discrimination that are at the heart of our nation’s inequalities, including the undeniable impact of rising child poverty on educational outcomes. In particular, we must see much stronger policies that recognise the fundamental link between academic progress, inclusive teaching and learning, and children’s feelings of safety and wellbeing.

Detailed commentary

Literacy and numeracy targets – NCB recognises the fundamental importance of literacy and numeracy, and welcomes a rigorous focus on supporting every child to make progress using evidence based interventions. Equally, however, children’s progress should not be solely measured in these terms, and schools must still have the space to engage children in the joy of other subjects and extra-curricular activities. Increasing the amount of time children spend in school could ensure there are more opportunities for a broader curriculum offer.

Children not in school – the White Paper reconfirms the welcome intention to introduce legislation to establish a compulsory register for children who are Electively Home Educated. This will help keep children safer and ensure all children can enjoy their right to a suitable education. NCB believes this must be accompanied by a clear duty on and funding for local authorities to provide support to children who are home educated, alongside much-needed reform to alternative provision in the forthcoming green paper.

Academies – school structures are far less important in determining outcomes than well-trained and valued teachers and engaged and happy children. However, as we move towards full academisation, we welcome the government’s intention to review the accountability and regulation of academy trusts, including on the quality and inclusivity of the education they provide and how they work with other organisations.

Mental health in schools – The White Paper restates the commitment to every school has the opportunity to access funded training for a senior mental health lead. However, given the fact that 1 in 6 children report mental health difficulties[3], and on average there is a ten-year wait between young people displaying symptoms and getting help[4], this is a huge missed opportunity. We need a step-change with schools putting wellbeing and mental health at the heart of everything they do, and funding to deliver it.

SEN and Disabilities – The attainment gap between pupils with SEND and their peers is twice as big as the gap between pupils eligible for free school meals and their peers[5]. NCB will be looking to the SEN and Disabilities green paper published on Tuesday to offer a new inclusive vision for our education system, one that proactively removes the barriers that prevent children from learning, delivers an accessible curriculum, and rigorously monitors and values the progress of all children.

Impact of poverty - the White Paper fails to address the fact that educational outcomes cannot be viewed in isolation from other factors in a child’s life. Without further action on living standards, the Secretary of State’s ambitions for education will be completely undermined by the corrosive effects of poverty. Up to 150,000 more children living in poverty by the end of the year[6] is not the context in which children can reach their full potential, despite the best intentions of politicians and teachers.


[2] Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of Education, University College London (2020). Mental health during lockdown: Evidence from four generations. Accessed: https:// initial-findings-from-COVID-19-survey-1.pdf