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Social Justice

Levelling up: Government ‘recycling old policies’ to distract from Partygate, says Labour

A new levelling up policy to reduce the school attainment gap is notably similar to Tory plans put forward in 2017, experts say.

Ministers have come under fire for “recycling old announcements” as part of their long-awaited levelling up plans.

With the first levelling up white paper set to be published on Wednesday, a number of policies to address regional inequality have already been teased, including proposals to cut the attainment gap between wealthy and poorer areas.

Around 55 “education investment areas” including Hartlepool, Cornwall and County Durham have been identified for extra resources to increase academic standards in schools. Roughly 95 per cent of the targeted areas are outside London and the South East.

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Ministers will give schools retention payments to hold onto the best teachers in subjects where more pupils are struggling, the government said, as well as setting targets for 90 per cent of children to have reached set standards in reading, writing and maths when they leave primary school by 2030.

But opposition MPs and experts warned that there was little distinction between this policy and the “opportunity areas” initiative promised by the Conservative party in 2017, announced by then-education secretary Justine Greening. At the time, the Department for Education pledged a £75m teaching and leadership innovation fund focused on supporting teachers in subjects which were proving more difficult to raise standards in.

“Opportunity areas will help local children get the best start in life, no matter what their background. Ensuring all children can access high-quality education at every stage is critical,” Greening said.

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Responding to this week’s levelling up education announcement, Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “The government is desperately trying to distract from the utter chaos at the heart of Downing Street by recycling old announcements, which shows the limits of the Conservatives’ ambition for Britain.

“Under the Conservatives, 40 per cent of young people are leaving education without the qualifications they need to prosper, while rehashed ‘investment areas’ would not be needed if ministers had only given our communities the respect they deserve for the last 11 years.”

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, added: “How do education investment areas differ from opportunity areas? How will we actually raise attainment?”

Officials involved with the levelling up white paper already have doubts about the strength of the government’s plans, i reported earlier this week, with even levelling up secretary Michael Gove said to think it falls short of what was promised.

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“This white paper sets out our blueprint for putting skills, schools and families at the heart of levelling up,” said Nadhim Zahawi, education secretary.

“It focuses on putting great schools in every part of the country, training that sets you up for success in a high-skilled, well-paid career, and ensuring no one misses out on opportunities simply because of where they live or their family background.”

The package also includes £560m to increase young people’s access to clubs and activities and £200m for supporting disadvantaged families, which was already announced in the most recent spending review.

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