We owe it northern children to tackle disparity in our schools
A primary school in York, England (Alamy)
When you talk about the future, you're talking about our children. Yet, a worrying portrait emerges when we look at the disparities our northern youngsters face.
The numbers don't lie: children in the north of England are being short-changed, and it’s time we addressed this lingering inequity.
A recent report on education and health inequity produced for the Child of the North APPG highlighted that northern schools receive, on average, 9.7% less funding than those in London.
This isn't just a mere statistic; this directly translates to less equipment, fewer resources, and less support for our students and teachers. Schools in London received an average of £6,610 per pupil, while those in the North East, North West, and Yorkshire and The Humber trailed with £6,225, £5,956, and £5,938 respectively.
What's even more concerning is the link between this funding gap and the wider societal challenges northern communities face. Smaller real-terms increases in funding translate into higher school absences, increased health and mental health issues, and poorer overall educational performance.
As a member of the Northern Research Group, we collaborated with the Centre for Progressive Policy on a report in 2021 which put forward concrete proposals which would support the Government's goal of levelling up. Our report found that attainment by poor pupils had improved significantly since the introduction of the Pupil Premium, including in the North. In order to close the educational attainment gap, the NRG and CPP called on Ministers to both expand the Pupil Premium eligibility and look at how this money is best spent.
Despite significant pandemic spending and cost of living support, families continue to struggle with poor quality homes and persistently high levels of school absences affecting children’s learning and future prospects. As living costs continue to rise, families find themselves in poor-quality homes, with some estimates of over 98,000 living in housing which does not meet 'decent homes' criteria, as highlighted in the Child of the North APPG report "Child Poverty and the Cost of Living Crisis".
Government has already set out measures to level up the North and address the chronic inequities which have plagued the country for decades including establishing Education Investment Areas (EIAs) to assist with prioritising support in the areas of the country which have the most entrenched underperformance.
There is, of course, more to be done to overcome decades of regional inequality.
The NRG's manifesto, the "Manifesto for the North," places a significant emphasis on children, skills, and education. Among our eight pledges, we have outlined transformative measures to revamp our educational infrastructure and give our children a fighting chance. It's about creating a future where every child, no matter their postcode, has access to quality education and opportunities.
It is essential that we not only recognise the problems but actively implement strategies that address the root causes of these inequalities. The funding disparities are more than numbers on a page; they represent opportunities denied, dreams deferred, and futures put at risk.
To truly rectify this, we need to redesign the funding system to be more responsive to the needs of individual regions, especially those in the North. The one-size-fits-all approach has proven ineffective. Schools in the North have unique challenges, and these should be adequately addressed in the funding they receive.
Additionally, collaboration between health and education sectors is imperative. As we all know, the physical and mental health of children and their families directly impacts educational outcomes. By fostering a more integrated approach, we can ensure that children are supported holistically, both in and outside of the classroom.
Moreover, we must tackle the broader socio-economic challenges head-on. Addressing the housing crisis and ensuring that families have adequate support during financial hardships are critical steps in the right direction.
Our "Manifesto for the North" is more than a document; it's a call to action. The North deserves better, and it's high time we united in our efforts to ensure that every child, regardless of where they live, has the tools, resources, and opportunities to thrive.
Mary Robinson is the Conservative MP for Cheadle and Co-Chair of the Child of the North APPG.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.