The children's commissioner has called for a "concerted effort" to improve schools in the North, in order to close "huge gaps" between the poorest northern pupils and those in London.
A report published today by the commissioner, Anne Longfield, says children growing up in the North are proud of their communities and ambitious for the future, but many are not yet feeling the benefits of northern regeneration.
London children who are eligible for free school meals are twice as likely to go to university as those in the North, and 40 per cent more likely to achieve a good maths and English GCSE, the report states.
The children’s commissioner calls for:
- More investment to support children in the most disadvantaged Northern areas;
- A programme to boost teacher recruitment;
- New partnerships between employers and schools to broaden pupils' horizons; and
- "Family hubs" to help families who are struggling
The report, which is based on a year-long study, says that many northern children do well at primary school but then fall behind at secondary.
Ms Longfield said: "Children growing up in the North love and are proud of the place they live. They want a future where they live near their family and community, and they want jobs and opportunities to rival anywhere else in the country.
“While many children in the North are thriving, there are huge gaps between the poorest Northern kids and those in the South. Too many children in the North are facing the double whammy of entrenched deprivation and poor schools. They are being left behind.
“The Northern Powerhouse will only succeed if children are put at the heart of the project. If the North is to flourish, it needs to grow and retain the talents of all its children and truly offer the opportunities in life they hope for.”
Some of the main findings in Growing Up North are:
- Northern two- to three-year-olds are more likely than their London counterparts to attend nursery – but are less likely to reach the expected standard of development when starting school;
- More than half of the schools serving the North’s most deprived communities are below a "good" rating. Schools in these areas are facing the same problems: weak leadership, poor governance and difficulties recruiting staff;
- Compared with the national average, many more children in the North are starting school with high levels of development issues. Fewer children in the North are having special educational needs diagnosed before they start school;
- High numbers of children across the North are dropping out of school too early;
- Girls are particularly disdavantaged in many northern areas, where traditional industries have been very male-dominated.
The report follows a series of reports criticising education standards in the North.
However, research has also showed that the attainment gap between the North and South is more to do with pupil demographics than school effectiveness and the reality can be much more complex than a simple North-South divide.
Education secretary Damian Hinds was pressed by the House of Commons Education Select Committee last week as to whether any areas of the North East would be designated as "opportunity areas" in order to attract extra funding aimed at tackling disadvantage – but he gave a non-committal response.
The Department for Education was contacted for comment.