The government should appoint a minister for the North, responsible for tackling the underperformance of Northern schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw has said.
Speaking at the launch of his annual report today, the Ofsted chief inspector highlighted the fact that the gap between secondary schools in the North and the Midlands and those in the South and East of England continues to widen.
More than a quarter of secondaries in the North and the Midlands are still inadequate, Sir Michael said. The quality of education in the more geographically and economically isolated parts of the country – including coastal areas – remains a particular concern.
Last year, the Ofsted annual report showed that the North-South divide affected pupils eligible for free school meals more than their peers. This year, this is also true of the most able pupils, who are less likely to reach A* or A grades at GCSE in the North or the Midlands than elsewhere.
“Education has the power to bring people together, but it can also divide,” Sir Michael said. “The fissures that divide regions from each other, and towns from each other, are affecting our country.
“Recent political history shows what can happen when large parts of the country feel alienated, because they feel they’ve not been dealt with fairly.
“It’s no good wringing our hands after the event – we’ve known about educational inequality and its consequences for some time.”
Banging heads together
Therefore, he called on the government to take decisive steps to tackle the problem.
“Perhaps we need the government to appoint a high-profile minister for the North, to bang heads together and make sure action is taken,” he said. “If action isn’t taken, the fissures we’ve already seen will deepen.”
The Department for Education argued that standards in the North are rising, and that no region in the country had seen a decrease in the proportion of schools rated good or outstanding.
Nick Gibb, school-standards minister, said: “We know there is more to do, and that’s precisely why we have set out plans to make more good school places available, to more parents, in more parts of the country – including scrapping the ban on new grammar-school places, and harnessing the resources and expertise of universities, independent schools and faith schools.”