Education group want to make Sheffield a ‘world class’ city

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Many parents with school-age children will not have heard of Learn Sheffield.

However, the group is on a mission to drive up standards to make Sheffield a ‘world-class city’ for education.

Formed in August last year, the company essentially acts as a go-between for all schools, special schools, academies, colleges, universities and the council.

The not-for-profit company – which is 80 per cent owned by city schools and 20 per cent owned by Sheffield Council – aims to support the improvement of every education establishment in the city.

Stephen Betts, chief executive of Learn Sheffield, said: “Our aim is to make Sheffield a world-class city – and this starts in the classrooms.

“Sheffield is the best city in the country and we all need to be more proud of it.”

Stephen said the best way to improve performance is through collaboration between schools and academies, as well as with industry, business, the colleges and universities.

Through such partnerships, Learn Sheffield aims to support school leaders to equip children with the skills they need for the modern work environment.

He said: “Traditionally, the council would be the education authority for all schools. But with the rise of academies and independent schools, there is not one over-arching group to oversee everything any more.

“That’s where we come in. We are communicating regularly with headteachers and representatives of schools to share good working practices.

“We are also working with everyone in the education sector to develop the right priorities for the city.”.”

Stephen said that, when it comes to improving education standards, it is important to remember that every school must improve – and every school has something to offer.

“Sheffield has actually made some considerable improvements in recent years,” he said. “The number of schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ has increased by more than 10 per cent since January 2015, which is nearly three times the rate of national improvement. However, there is still plenty to do.”

He added: “It’s important to realise that all schools need to improve and all schools, even the best ones, can be better.

“It’s equally important to realise that all schools have something to offer. You often see some truly amazing things happening in the worst performing schools.

“By highlighting these practices and sharing them with everybody else, everybody can improve.”

Improving a child’s results is only half the battle, though. If children are not equipped with the life skills to make the most of their qualifications, success might still evade them.

Stephen said: “Readiness is very important. It’s vital that children are ready to learn, progress to the next level or education, or the workplace, and to form relationships.

“Many children might, for instance, stay on at their school for sixth form.

“But if progression would mean travelling somewhere else, making new friends and being in a different environment, then perhaps they might not.

“We need to address this by giving young children the resilience and support to flourish in the modern world.

“We want Sheffield to have the fittest children in Britain and we want their attendance and punctuality maximised.

“We want children to be making positive impacts in their communities.”

Attracting more teachers into the profession is another key aim for Learn Sheffield.

There has been a national problem with the recruitment and retention of teachers, Stephen explained.

“Luckily Sheffield has not been as affected by this to the same degree as some areas because it is a popular place to live.

“That said, there is a recruitment issue and Learn Sheffield are keen to help with this.” Stephen said equipping teachers with the skills they need to do their job is important. But he believes more attention should be focused on the wellbeing of staff.

He said: “Teaching is a very hard job, but it is a rewarding job and I think we’ve got to be more positive about the benefits of the profession.”

Inclusion is another important area of focus. Stephen said: “No matter what difficulties a child might have, they need to have the same opportunities.

“We must identify and overcome the barriers that children and young people face, so that they are able to learn.”

While Learn Sheffield is still in its relative infancy, the small team are working around the clock to devise new initiatives for the benefit of Sheffield.

Quoting the Learn Sheffield vision, Stephen said: “We believe in supporting each other in having the courage to make a difference and shape a better future, through inspiration, integrity, equality, sustainability, accountability and optimism.”