According to a recent report by Institute for Public Policy Research, schools in the northern part of England are significantly lagging behind the rest of the country, especially for students from low-income families.
The report, funded by education charity Teach First, compared the number of students achieving the grades of A* to C in five GCSE subjects in different geographical areas. 55.5% of northern students earned five GCSEs compared to 57.3% nationwide and 60.9% in London.
They also compared poorer students separately, counting up only those who are eligible for free school meals. In the north, 34% of these students earned five GCSEs compared to 36.8% nationwide and 48.2% in London.
Even in northern schools ranked by Ofsted as “outstanding,” there is still a gap of 22% between students who receive free meals and their peers.
These achievement gaps exist in both pre-school and the secondary level, but northern primary schools are succeeding at about the same rate as the rest of the country, reports Laura Mowat of Express.
According to the authors, since “even good and outstanding schools have attainment gaps,” the solution is to focus on “tackling variation within all schools.” They also point out that school funding varies across the regions, and therefore they support government plans to improve funding at northern schools through a national funding formula.
In the north, schools get about £5,700 per secondary student, while London students receive about £7,000 each, reports Judith Burns of BBC News.
The report was published on the tenth anniversary of the teaching charity working in the northwest, but it also aims to deal with the Northern Powerhouse plan, reports John Roberts of the Yorkshire Post. Recently, Ofsted warned that unless education in the north improves, the Northern Powerhouse plan to boost economic growth will “splutter and die.”
Lord Jim O’Neill, Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, said:
“We agree with the report that tackling underperformance is critical to the productivity and growth of the Northern Powerhouse and that’s why we have placed education and skills at the heart of our plan, including £20 million a year of new investment in a Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy.”
The associate director of the IPPR, Jonathan Clifton, pointed to London as an example of how to improve northern schools. He said:
Two decades ago London was the worst place to attend school if you were from a low-income background, now London’s disadvantaged pupils achieve better outcomes than those in other parts of the country.
The successful turnaround of London’s schools shows that educational disadvantage can be tackled though investment, strong leadership and collaboration.
We need a similar level ambition for schools in the north. Smart policy and fair funding from government could transform children’s prospects and help build the northern powerhouse.
According to Alix Robertson of Schools Week, the report’s recommendations for closing the achievement gap include redistribution of funding through funding formula reform, teacher recruitment aimed at the areas of greatest need, and better leadership.
According to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, recent reforms are helping poorer pupils and diminishing the gap, but “the job is not finished yet.” She reports that 1.4 million more children are attending good or outstanding schools compared to 2010, and she said that great teachers are the key to improving schools.