Lord O'Neill: Raising standards in every classroom is the goal of a ground-breaking education initiative in west Cumbria

Posted On: 
15th July 2019

The recently launched WELL programme is a collaboration between the nuclear industry and Cumbria County Council, and Lord Jim O’Neill, vice-chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership and founding trustee of SHINE highlights how this unique kind of approach is Educating the North.

The recently launched WELL programme is a collaboration between the nuclear industry and Cumbria County Council
Credit: 
Sellafield Ltd

In 2018, we published our landmark Educating the North report.

In it, we argued Government and industry must do more to address education inequality in the north of England.

We called for a greater focus on children from disadvantaged backgrounds, parity between academic and vocational education, ‘inspirational’ work experience programmes, and measures to improve failing secondary schools.

This should be underpinned, we said, by greater collaboration between the public and private sector; evidence-led solutions that work in a local context.

So it was incredibly pleasing to see the launch of the WELL project in Cumbria last month.

Sellafield Ltd and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) will provide its £1.7m a year funding.

Crucially, it has been designed locally by the Cumbria Association of System Leaders (CASL). It’s not a top-down, Whitehall-led approach.

The programme is underpinned by knowledge of the local context. It understands where the barriers to educational attainment are, which areas need strengthening, and where the greatest needs lie.

It’s tremendously impressive and I’m looking forward to seeing how it delivers on its aspirations.

I’m particularly heartened by the collaboration between Government, local education providers and industry.

We cannot address the issues we uncovered in Educating the North unless agencies work together.

Sellafield Ltd and the NDA are clearly employers who take their responsibilities seriously.

For the north to punch its weight economically, education and skills are the things we have to sort out first.

We’ve seen how London came together to turn its schools around from some of the worst to some of the best.

The same must happen in the north to create an education system capable of delivering the skilled workforce we need.

The WELL programme is a great example of taking this vision and moulding it into a reality that will deliver in a local context.”

WELL stands for Western Excellence in Leadership and Learning. It aspires to raise standards in every classroom in the boroughs of Copeland and Allerdale, in west Cumbria.

Its aims are to:

  • improve consistency and quality of teaching
  • raise pupil achievement to be in line with the UK average
  • improve attendance levels
  • enhance students’ health and wellbeing

Strategies will be developed to recruit, retain, and develop high quality teaching staff, including the creation of a West Cumbria Educational Leadership Academy.

This will develop current and future school leaders, encouraging leaders to adopt and use best practice from business and industry in an educational context.

A fund will also be established to help teachers develop their knowledge, with an emphasis on visiting schools around the UK to learn from best practice.

Other plans include the creation of a west Cumbria-wide curriculum plan to underpin Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership’s strategy for inclusive economic growth.

Strategies enhancing children’s ‘cultural capital’ will be drawn up, to ensure access to sporting events, theatre, and the arts.

The ‘closing the gap’ initiative will develop best practice techniques for teaching children from disadvantaged backgrounds. This will include measures to raise attendance levels, create better home-to-school relationships, and improve careers advice.

A particular focus will be ‘transition points’ like the switch from primary to secondary where children can often fall behind. And a fund will be created to give poorer households access to books and resources.

Poor attendance will be addressed through a range of measures, including improving home-school relationships, with measures to reduce exclusions, including the creation of facilities to keep young people in school where possible.

The wellbeing element will provide mental health training for staff, develop early identification and intervention techniques, and create a network of mental health first aiders.

Sellafield Ltd funding will come from its annual £10 million social impact budget, and the company’s head of corporate affairs Jamie Reed said:

The success of this programme will benefit every family in our community. It’s an exciting, inspirational project and will help us go further towards meeting our commitment in helping to build the Northern Powerhouse.

The scheme is a key component of our social impact strategy, which aims to ensure our local community benefits from our work in the long term.

Lord O'Neill of Gatley is vice-chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership & a Crossbench peer