Ministers are to launch a new national behaviour survey as part of its plans to improve standards and lift attainment in schools in England.
It is one of a package of measures outlined in a schools white paper unveiled on Monday, which also includes ambitious new attainment targets for all primary and secondary pupils across the country.
The government says good behaviour is key to enabling effective learning and is currently consulting on new guidance for behaviour in schools, including the use of suspensions and permanent exclusions.
The white paper, the first for six years, also announced plans to ensure that all schools in England offer a minimum school week of 32.5 hours, as well as an ambition for all schools to join academy trusts by 2030, with new powers for councils to establish their own academy trusts.
Launching the schools white paper on Monday, the education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, promised to “spread brilliance” across the country, giving every single child, whoever and wherever they are “an outstanding education”.
“I don’t believe that kids in Knowlsey are less talented than kids in Kensington, they just haven’t had the same opportunity, that’s the difference – and I’m determined to make a difference to change that,” he said.
At the core of the government’s plans is the ambition for 90% of children to leave primary school having achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths – a sizeable jump from just 65% in 2019. At secondary level, meanwhile, the government wants an increase in the GCSE average grade in English language and maths from 4.5 to 5.
“This stuff is eminently doable,” Zahawi told an audience of parents and teachers at the launch of the white paper at Monega primary school in Newham in east London, where he drew parallels between the success of the coronavirus vaccine rollout and his plans for lifting educational standards.
Asked about his plans for grammar schools, Zahawi said he would like to “spread their DNA” through the education system but declined to commit to opening more.
“We’ve got 165 grammar schools. Their ethos is fantastic; their DNA I want to spread in the system. Many are already in high-performing multi-academy trusts. We will continue to make sure that they feel that they can join that journey and be protected as well.”
But research published simultaneously by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) demonstrated the huge challenge still facing schools dealing with the continuing impact of the pandemic on learning, with children’s attainment still lagging behind because of lost learning.
While learning losses for primary pupils in the 2021-22 autumn term have shown some signs of recovery since the summer term, for pupils in secondary schools, the EPI said there had been further losses in reading over this period.
The report’s author, Jon Andrews, said: “Our latest data shows a reduction in the extent of lost learning in primary maths since the summer. However, what is particularly concerning is the performance of secondary-aged pupils.
“Far from showing signs of recovery, they appear to be showing a greater degree of learning loss than they did at the end of the last school year. Disadvantaged children in secondary schools also appear to be falling further behind their non-disadvantaged peers in their reading.”
Teaching unions warned that the government’s vision for the future of education in England would not be realised without additional funding and resources.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “This is a white paper which does not reflect on the mistakes of the past, does not address the problems of the Covid present and does not have the answers for the future.
“Its message is that the education of the future will be a souped up version of what we have seen over the last decade. Schools and their students need better than that. This is not the vision of education recovery which is needed for England.”
She said schools were being “battered” by a storm of real problems with inadequate funding levels, increasing child poverty, a widening attainment gap, problems with teacher recruitment and retention and an outdated qualifications system.
“The white paper does not recognise the seriousness and depth of these issues. Even where it points to important problems, such as mental health, support for Send [special educational needs and disability] and behaviour, it does not commit sufficient funding to them.”
Dr Patrick Roach, the general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said: “The ambitions set out in the white paper will not be delivered unless they are matched with the funding and resources needed to meet the challenges facing the education system today.”