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Northern schools ‘must be at top of Minister’s in-tray’

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Improving schools in the North should be “at the top of the in-tray” for the new Education Secretary, according to a major study published today.

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A new report argues there is still a significant North-South divide in education, with too many northern young people, especially those from disadvantaged homes, falling behind other parts of the UK.

Disadvantaged teenagers in the North score around a grade lower on average in their GCSEs compared to their better-off peers, according to the study by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), which represents business and civic leaders.

It calls for action to boost the achievement and prospects of the region’s young people, including urging businesses to mentor at least as many Northern schoolchildren as they have employees in the region. This could benefit at least 900,000 young people, aged 11 upwards.

The report says the NPP was set up to increase the North’s contribution to the UK economy, re-balance the country and to provide opportunities for 16 million people in the region.

Lord O'Neill, left says northern schools should be a priority for new Education Secretary Damian Hinds

Lord O'Neill, left says northern schools should be a priority for new Education Secretary Damian Hinds

But it warns this will not be achieved without tackling the low educational performance of a significant proportion of children in the area, particularly at GCSE level, and dealing with a skills gap.

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Data shows the average GCSE score across eight subjects in 2016/17 among teenagers across the North, those living in the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber, was 45.1, compared to a national average of 46.1 and an average of 48.6 in London.

Separate figures for 2015/16 show that disadvantaged teenagers living in the North score around 13 points less across eight subjects than their better-off peers in the region, equivalent to poorer pupils scoring around a grade lower on average.

For the Northern Powerhouse to succeed and deliver a North that pulls its weight in economic terms the first things we have to sort out are education and skills.

Lord O’Neill

Lord Jim O’Neill, NPP vice-chair, said new Education Secretary Damian Hinds should make boosting the performance of northern schools a top priority.

The little-known Mr Hinds replaced Rotherham-born Justine Greening, who lost her job in Theresa May’s Cabinet reshuffle just three weeks ago.

Ms Greening told The Yorkshire Post this week that she was still fully committed to implementing the social mobility strategy she launched last month so everyone has a fair chance to get a better job than their parents.

“For the Northern Powerhouse to succeed and deliver a North that pulls its weight in economic terms the first things we have to sort out are education and skills,” said Lord O’Neill. “Sorting out schools in the Northern Powerhouse should be at the top of the new Education Secretary’s in-tray, and we will be working closely with government to implement our recommendations.”

A foreword to the report says: “In all the work we have done consulting with businesses in the North, poor skills and inadequate training come across consistently as the major issues.

“As our report documents, the facts show educational attainment in the North of England lags behind the South.

“Compared with London pupils, pupils in the North make a third of a grade less progress overall at 16 and almost half a grade less in mathematics on average, one in four of them at secondary schools judged by Ofsted as inadequate or requiring improvement.

“Too many children in the North aren’t getting the education they need or deserve.”

The report argues that firms should pledge to offer youngsters meaningful careers advice and guidance, including work placements, to help boost skills and provide opportunities to youngsters in the North of England.

Among other recommendations are a call for extra money for early years services, and for disadvantaged pupils.

‘Standards are rising’

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Standards are rising thanks to our reforms and the hard work of teachers, with 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools since 2010 and nine out of ten schools awarded this rating at their latest inspection.

“We want all pupils to benefit from a world-class education that inspires them to make the most of their lives, no matter where they live or their background. T

“That’s why we launched our Social Mobility Action Plan, which sets out a range of actions including targeting the areas that need the most support through the £72million Opportunity Areas programme and our recent investment in literacy to help every child arrive at school with the vocabulary levels they need to learn.

“This builds on the £2.5billion we provide to schools to help raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils through the Pupil Premium.”

Reaction

Clair Mowbray, chief executive of the National College for High Speed Rail, said: “The skills disadvantage that the North of England suffers from is one of the most telling consequences of having a national economy that remains unevenly skewed towards London and the South.

“As a result the North often loses its most talented people to the South. To keep our best talent in the North we need to establish world-class training facilities that people from the North and across the country aspire to learn at.”

Andy Koss, Drax Power CEO, said: “Within the energy sector there are huge opportunities for the north through new energy technologies, such as bioenergy, offshore wind, and nuclear power.

“To take advantage of these opportunities we need a diverse, well-equipped future workforce with a high level of education and skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths subjects.”

Anna Round, Senior Research Fellow at IPPR North, said: “It’s important that we all recognise the deep injustice at the heart of England’s education system.

“The NAHT have shown that 18 of the 20 areas in England that receive the most per-pupil funding are in London and this is improving social mobility in the city.

“Barnsley, near the bottom for social mobility, gets £4,729 per year for each secondary school pupil; Hackney, in the top five for social mobility, gets £7,840.”

Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “Our young people have been let down by lack of consistency in the education sector and we have shown how through local ownership and management of schemes, such as the Devolved Youth Contract, we have delivered better results than one-size-fits-all national approaches.”

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