Developing an Education Strategy in Uncertain Times

Published: 10 December 2020
A blog by Stephen Betts which provides the background to the development of a new Education Strategy (out for consultation now) during a global pandemic.

The new draft Education Strategy was finally launched for consultation last week. For those of us involved in bringing this together, this was a significant milestone in a piece of work that effectively began in the summer of 2019. If only we had known then what was to come!

Our analysis of the impact of the Sheffield Priorities was shared with the Learn Sheffield board in the summer term of 2019. It recognised that progress had been made on a number of fronts but concluded that a lack of funding and investment had significantly limited the impact. It argued that Learn Sheffield should not update the priorities but instead seek to work with Sheffield City Council to develop a strategy that was owned by the city.

This analysis was shared over the months that followed with Cllr Abtisam Mohamed, John Macilwraith and Andrew Jones as they all took up important new roles within Sheffield City Council (SCC). The four of us met a number of times in the first part of the 2019/20 school year to explore the challenges that Sheffield faces and develop a shared perspective on the next steps.

Cllr Mohamed's vision included the development of a new strategy that brought together Education and Skills. This was, naturally, reflected in the changes that John Macilwraith was making within the portfolio, including the development of a Director of Education and Skills post. Although the process of developing an education strategy and a skills strategy would be necessarily separate (as the knowledge base required is different) it was decided that they would then come together. 


The plan was to work with a large number of stakeholders to produce a strategy for consultation, working towards having a new strategy in place for September 2020. This was derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic which changed the day to day priorities for everyone in the education sector and forced us to delay this work.

The pandemic had two significant impacts on the development of the strategy. The first was on the timeline, which was forced to move backwards with the strategy work effectively being frozen between March and September. The second was on the way that we sought input from stakeholders. In normal times we would have worked with stakeholders throughout the process but in the circumstances we were forced to adopt the more old-fashioned approach of producing a document for consultation and then seeking stakeholder views.

The impact of this is likely to be that the document that has gone out for consultation will be quite different to the final version. We will start to develop the document based on the feedback that we are getting, during the consultation as well as once the consultation closes on Thursday 7 January 2021. We have effectively moved the point when we hear wider views to the consultation phase and so we expect to see significant changes from the starting point of the draft document.

We could have delayed the whole process and worked in the way that we had envisaged from now, but this would have had the effect of delaying the implementation of the strategy by a further school year. I think it is the right call to press ahead in this way, although the plan to consult more widely on the longer term priorities as we emerge from the Covid emergency now become especially crucial.

Although the development of this strategy has been delayed, some of the thinking that underpins it has moved forward during the pandemic. In October 2020 Learn Sheffield published a booklet containing a number of funded programmes that are available to Sheffield settings during the 2020/21 academic year. These programmes were shared alongside each other so that settings could apply for opportunities that align most closely to their development plans.

This approach reflects our vision for how we will work as a city during the coming years in order to invest in our shared priorities and bring opportunities to our early years settings, schools, academies and colleges that reflect this. In this way we also believe that we can also use additional civic investment to bring in further investment into the city (as we have done this year with matched funding from the Education Endowment Fund).   

I hope that the strategy will be well received and that people will feel that it represents a real opportunity for us, as a city, to build on our sector-led approach. The willingness of Sheffield City Council to engage in this work at this time and seek to commit additional investment in education at a time when most local areas are retreating from this is commendable. This makes it possible for us to bring forward and develop a strategy that is genuinely aspirational for all our children and young people.

I also hope that people will, despite the current pressures, find the time to consider the draft document and feedback. This is how we will develop the strategy into one which everyone can get behind and commit to. Without this we simply have words on a page and we all know that they rarely make a difference to anything that genuinely improves the life chances of a child or young person.

The strategy is ambitious for every Sheffield child or young person and for every professional who works with them in every setting. It recognises the importance of both achievement and readiness in enabling young people to become successful citizens of Sheffield, now more than ever as Covid has exposed and deepened inequality. The strategy sets out our initial priorities but also outlines how we will seek to work across the decade ahead to address the priorities that emerge in the future.

With your support we will improve this strategy and then deliver it for the benefit of the communities that we serve. Thanks, as always, for all your support and all that you do.


Stephen Betts


Can you have a PS at the end of a blog?

I hope so, as I would like to take the opportunity to thank Marc Rowland for his support with the development of this document. His challenge and support is, as always, greatly appreciated.  

Return to Articles