“Urgent attention” must be given to improving education in the North of England, says George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse Partnership think tank.
In its first report since being set up last year, the think tank identifies what needs to be done to “build a Northern Powerhouse”.
“Many issues have been raised with us,” said the authors, “but one challenge stood out: education.”
Labour said George Osborne’s policies as chancellor had harmed the North.
Mr Osborne said the region was “at a turning point”.
He set up the think tank last September to champion the ideas he had pursued as chancellor.
‘A new gear’
Launching the report, Mr Osborne said: “We can either make use of the momentum behind the Northern Powerhouse to really close the North-South gap, or we can let the moment pass and leave our country divided and the North left behind,” he added.
The report recommends urgent attention be given to improving the performance and aspiration of the North’s schools and the quality of adult skills, along with better transport and broadband provision and more ambitious local decision making.
The aim is to transform the economy of the North of England, said Mr Osborne.
The initiative has already “shifted the North into a new gear”, he said.
“We can either make use of the momentum behind the Northern Powerhouse to really close the North-South gap – or we can let the moment pass and leave our country divided and the North left behind.
“Get it right and the northern economy will be £100bn bigger, with more jobs and higher living standards for all.”
Ofsted’s annual report , published in December, also identified poorly performing schools in the North and East Midlands as fuelling the sense of a divided nation.
The outgoing chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw warned then that the economic future of the North relied on addressing poor performance in some schools.
Mr Osborne said there was “overwhelming evidence that attainment at 16 is too low in the North, leaving us lagging behind the UK and international competitors”.
The region loses 30,000 graduates a year, according to the report, as students from northern universities move away after graduating.
Mr Osborne said he would ask a group of leading employers and education leaders to work with the partnership “to put this right”.
In order to boost education and skills, the report recommends that the North works to:
- improve secondary schools to bring the proportion of good and outstanding schools up to the national average
- raise attainment in English and maths at age 16 to at least the national average
- aim to retain graduates and ultimately be a net importer of graduates, particularly in the areas of science and technology
Northern Powerhouse Partnership board member Lord O’Neill agreed that improvements to infrastructure alone were not enough.
“Something that also shines through in this report is that the education system in the North is not currently performing to its potential; in fact it is currently falling behind the South.
“We need an education system that promotes and retains talent and we need to gain graduates, not lose them.”
In response the government said it had launched the Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy review and earmarked £70m to support educational improvement in the North.
“We have also named Scarborough, Oldham, Blackpool, Bradford and Doncaster as Opportunity Areas to benefit from additional funding and resources to promote social mobility,” said a Department for Education spokesman.
But shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said the think-tank report was “all very well – but let’s not forget that he was chancellor in a Tory government that presided over falling school budgets, a chronic teacher shortage and not enough good school places.
“The Tories’ huge cuts to schools funding will hit schools in the North hard, making the problems highlighted in this report even worse.
“The Northern Powerhouse means nothing unless the government is prepared to invest in education, skills and infrastructure.”
And Anne Longfield, children’s commissioner for England, urged the think tank to consider “why some parts of northern England have the best primary schools in the country, but lower attainment at secondary school and the lowest adult employment rates”.
She promised that her own Growing Up North project, would suggest practical ways for the Northern Powerhouse to improve the lives of the region’s children and young people.