£1bn extra and 4 other ways to improve Northern schools

Northern Powerhouse leaders call for extra funding and a shake-up of regional schools commissioner system

John Roberts

Lord O' Neill tells MPs that an extra £1 billion should be spent on disadvantaged schools in the North

MPs have been told that an extra £1 billion should be spent on supporting schools with pupils living in long-term poverty to raise educational standards in the North.

Lord Jim O'Neill (pictured) and Henri Murison, from the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), made the call during an evidence session of the Commons Education Select Committee today.

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Here are five recommendations they made.

1. Provide £1bn extra to support schools facing long-term disadvantage

MPs were told that 500 schools have been identified with a concentration of pupils who have been living in poverty throughout their education.

Mr Murison, the director of the NPP, said research carried out with Education Datalab had shown that around two-thirds of these schools were in the North of England. 

The partnership has produced a report calling for an extra £1 billion to be found to help address this issue.

Labour MP Lucy Powell praised the NPP for recognising that there was "extra focus" needed on the most disadvantaged. But she asked if it was realistic to ask for £1 billion to go to these schools.

Lord O'Neill, the vice chair of the NPP and a former Treasury minister, replied: "I would hope so. In the grand scheme of things, when you look at the amount being considered for big infrastructure schemes. Bringing it back to productivity issues, a billion spent on disadvantaged educational support is, in my judgement, likely to have much more of what economists call a multiplier effect than big juicy infrastructure projects."

2. New league tables showing school context will boost the North

MPs were told that new national league tables are set to be published which will give schools a progress score adjusted for their context.

Mr Murison said the NPP was working with Bristol University to publish new tables nationally which do more to recognise the school's cohort and the challenges it faces.

He said: "It's stark. So for secondary schools in the North, they move up the tables nationally 300 places on average. It reduces significantly the number of [Northern] schools below the required standards."

Mr Murison said adjusted results for 2017 for every school would be published in the next few weeks. 

Lord O' Neill said the tables would help to challenge the "lazy assumption" that the North was bad at education.

3. Regional school commissioner structure 'needs changing'

Both Lord O'Neill and Mr Murison questioned the current structure of regional school commissioners.

Mr Murison said there was chaos around the RSCs and that in some areas the government was hampering school effectiveness. 

Lord O'Neill told MPs it did not make sense for commissioners to exist in a separate universe to devolution – particularly in the big metropolitan areas.

The NPP has called for the creation of a Northern Schools Board with the powers to take over failing academy chains and scale up existing ones.

Lord O'Neill said one of the attractions of this approach was to break up the RSC structure, which he said was "not really successfully functioning".

4. Prime mnisterial hopefuls should be asked about education in the North

Ms Powell asked what message the NPP would have for Conservative politicians vying to be the next prime minister.

Lord O'Neill said they should be asked what they are planning to do about "stark regional variations" and particularly in education in the North.

He urged Tory MPs on the committee to take that message to those running to be the next party leader.

5. It's 'ludicrous' not to prioritise the Northern Powerhouse 

Lord O'Neill was one of the architects of the Northern Powerhouse plan, which aimed to improve the connections across cities in the North,  along with the chair of the NPP and former chancellor George Osborne.

Lord O'Neill said: "What has really disappointed me in the two-and-a-half years since I ended my brief period as a minister is we seem to have lost the context of why it is important".

He told MPs that "if you can change the performance of the closely linked urban areas in the North... it is a national game-changer".  

MPs were told it was ludicrous not to prioritise the Northern Powerhouse.  

Lord O'Neill also condemned the government's "nonsense" underspend of the Northern Powerhouse education fund. Tes revealed in June that only a fraction of the money earmarked for the North had actually been spent.

Ian Mearns MP had asked if he had been disappointed by the government's lack of commitment to the Northern Powerhouse.


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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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