As a Northern developer we have a keen interest in how the regions are developing and what the future holds. Whether you look at Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool, Sheffield or Hull, it is clear that the fortune of individual places in the North is dependent on the success of all.
In the eighth article of this series, we take a look at how a good industrial plan, improving transport infrastructure, a greater focus on healthcare and all the rest of it isn’t much use unless we also get education right. There is a lot to do when it comes to education in the North and it has to be prioritised to ensure a productive future.
Of all the things that need to be delivered to make the North a 21st century success story, ensuring that the people who live in the Northern regions are given a high quality education is probably the most important and the most pressing.
No matter how much you improve infrastructure, health, housing or the economy, none of it means much if there isn’t an educated, skilled workforce to make the most of it. Educational attainment is lacking in the North compared to the South, lower grades and less progress being made – a state of affairs which persists from the nursery to the workplace.
The Northern Powerhouse Partnership’s ‘Educating the North’ report lays out the scale of the problem. By the age of 16, Northern children are on average 13%, or a whole grade, worse off than their peers elsewhere in the country. Perhaps this should not be surprising given that the report also shows that one in four Northern secondary schools are rather as ‘inadequate’ or ‘requiring improvement’ by Ofsted.
Similarly, it is acknowledged that the most disadvantaged children tend to fall behind in schools, and the Northern regions have a far higher proportion of underserved areas than the national average. This means that the North has more children starting from behind and this has knock on effects throughout their lives. In turn, this means that the North is struggling to fulfil its potential and will continue to do so in the future unless solutions are forthcoming.
When looking for solutions, the issue always comes back around to funding. As is the case with transport, housing and everything else, the North receives far less than it’s due when compared to other parts of the UK, particularly London and the South East. This can be solved in two related ways.
The first is for the government to simply give the north more money for its schools and children. As well as being the right thing to do and consistent with its stated aims, properly funding the North’s schools will help the whole country. Education is well known as a silver bullet for all sorts of problems which provides an outsized benefit for everyone involved. Far from being a risk, the benefits of funding education more fully in the North are basic economics.
Secondly, we have argued previously that the North will not be able to fulfil its potential without real devolution of meaningful powers. In no area is this more relevant than education. It is hard to argue that central government in London knows the ins and outs of communities in the North well enough to be in charge of where our schools are located and who runs them. Likewise, are officials based in the capital really the best people to judge where skills spending needs to be targeted in order to help the diverse economies of the North? ‘No’ is the answer to that; a system fit for the North needs to be managed by those who know it best.
If the government is truly serious about rebalancing the national economy then that has to start right at the beginning; every child deserves and requires a good education which equips them for life – even those who don’t live in London or the South East. Everywhere you look in the North there is potential bursting from the seams. Given an even playing field from the very beginning, the regions will flourish.