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Exclusive: Only 15% of Northern Powerhouse fund is accounted for

Questions for Department for Education over what happened to the £70m support fund for the North of England

School leaders have welcomed the new £24m fund

Questions for Department for Education over what happened to the £70m support fund for the North of England

Only a fraction of the £70 million Northern Powerhouse schools strategy fund has been identified as having being spent on schemes for the North – 18 months after it was launched, Tes can reveal.

The Department for Education is facing questions on how or whether the fund has been used since it was announced in 2016.

The Commons Education Select Committee wrote to the DfE demanding answers after former Treasury minister Lord Jim O’Neill told MPs that he was unaware of any of the £70 million fund being spent.

The DfE has now identified three schemes which it says are being funded through the strategy – £6 million on the creation of maths hubs and boosting maths teaching in the North West£5 million on home learning trials for early years children in the North; and the Northern elements of a national English hubs programme.

The £6 million for maths teaching was announced after O’ Neill raised questions – and there was no mention made of the Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy when the other two projects were announced earlier this year.

Apart from this combined £11 million, no further spending breakdown was provided.

Speaking to Tes, Lord O Neill said: “My experience is that the government can make an announcement that money is being committed to something and then that ends up being the end of it. Until recently [when the DfE published a press release following the committee’s probing], I was not aware of any of it having been used.”

Where's the money gone?

In 2016, chancellor George Osborne commissioned Dixons Academy chain chief executive Sir Nick Weller to produce a report to inform a northern powerhouse schools strategy.

Sir Nick’s report made a series of recommendations, including launching a Teach North scheme to attract and retain talented teachers in disadvantaged areas, and a mentoring scheme to allow the leaders of successful multi-academy trusts elsewhere to support new trust chief executives in the North.

However, by the time it was published in November of that year, Osborne had left office.  

Last month, Lord O’Neill urged the Education Select Committee to ask what had happened to the £70 million funding that was announced when the report was published.

Tes asked the DfE how many of the recommendations from Sir Nick's report had been implemented or were being planned for the future and for a breakdown of the spending on the Northern Powerhouse school strategy fund.

The DfE pointed to:

  • £6 million in maths teaching, including £1.75 million for two hubs in Cheshire and Central Lancashire;
  • a £5 million project for the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to trial schemes to provide practical tools and advice to parents so they can help their children learn new words; and
  •  the Northern elements of a national English hub programme.

A DfE spokesman said: “Work on the Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy is already well underway – and we are investing £70 million to boost school performance as well as through our 12 Opportunity Areas – five of which are in the North.”

To read the full investigation, see the 8 June edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article hereTo subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. 

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