Zahawi: Pupils not in strong academy trusts are missing out on life chances

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Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said pupils who are not attending a school within a strong academy trust are missing out on important life chances.

Speaking at the Confederation of School Trusts’ annual conference in Birmingham on Thursday, he said he was “in awe” of the work of academy trusts, adding that “strong trusts deliver transformative benefits for children, especially disadvantaged children”.

Mr Zahawi said that he knew from his experience with the Covid vaccination programme that the “hardest thing to do with any complex system is to scale it successfully”.

The Schools Bill, which sets out plans for all schools to join a multi-academy trust (MAT) by 2030, would help drive up standards, he said, adding that “every day that a child is not in a strong trust is a missed opportunity to improve their life chances”.

Baseline requirements for academy trusts set out in the Bill would make sure that those that are failing will not “damage the excellent reputation that you have all worked so hard to build”, he told multi-academy trust leaders at the conference.

He said “standards in some areas of our country are still too low” and that the “best leaders and trusts” are needed to drive change.

Mr Zahawi said “strong families of schools weathered the Covid storms more effectively than standalone schools” and that he had seen the “Herculean” efforts of MATs to keep schools open during the Omicron wave in early 2022.

“Many trusts came together with others including local authorities to support vulnerable children and families during this time, again displaying their civic duty,” he added.

He said the trust system had at times been held together by “rubber bands and Sellotape” and that it needs a more “sustainable” future.

He said the Government’s levelling up agenda is an example of “civic duty in action” and it is a “collective response that says, ‘No, we are not going to just accept that some areas of the country are routinely left behind’”.

He said Government plans for recovery mean schools are getting back to normal, with primary pupils making up lost learning in maths and literacy, while GCSE and A-level students are sitting exams for the first time in two years.

Mr Zahawi said he was sure the trusts in attendance were “united by the horror of what is being done to our fellow sovereign state Ukraine”.

He said he had been “humbled by how schools and communities across the country are opening their arms to welcome those who have had to flee their homeland”.

The situation in Ukraine is “a terrifying example of what happens when individual rights and freedoms are under attack”, he said.

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