Improving education key to tackling skills shortage in north

George Osborne and Lord Jim O'Neill launch the first report from the Northern Powerhouse Partnership in February 2017 with Collette Roche. Picture by Tony Johnson
George Osborne and Lord Jim O'Neill launch the first report from the Northern Powerhouse Partnership in February 2017 with Collette Roche. Picture by Tony Johnson
  • Report for major investment for worse-off families
  • Disadvantaged northern pupils falling one GCSE grade behind
  • Call for employers to commit to provide inspirational work experience

Too many children in the north are falling behind other parts of the UK leading to a serious skills shortage for employers, a major new report has found.

The report, from the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), sets out three major factors affecting the next generation – the importance of a child’s early years in their future development, how disadvantage drastically impairs performance and leaves them behind the rest of the UK when they leave school and the need for businesses across the north to play a much bigger role in providing meaningful experience of work.

It also calls on the Government to provide extra funding to ensure children are ready for school at age five, to increase support for disadvantaged families and failing schools and to devolve adult education funding to northern metro mayors.

The NPP Education and Skills Board, chaired by Manchester Airport’s group chief of staff, Collette Roche, is calling on employers in the Northern Powerhouse to play a far greater role in offering mentoring and meaningfully reaching out to children and young people.

Challenging companies of all sizes to work with the same number of young people as they have northern employees, this would see at least 900,000 young people receiving experience of the world of work. This will help the Northern Powerhouse train, retain and up-skill its own workforce, with a wide range of high-skilled jobs in areas of northern expertise such as digital and health innovation.

Creating a skilled workforce, coupled with increased government investment and enhanced connectivity to be provided by Northern Powerhouse Rail linking the cities of the north, would allow 850,000 extra jobs to be created and generate an additional £100billion to the UK economy by 2050.

Key to this is making school leavers see genuine parity of esteem between vocational and academic further education, establishing the north as the world’s leading centre for degree apprenticeships. Many of the north’s leading universities and businesses are already embracing apprenticeships, but need to make full use of the apprenticeship levy.

One in four northern secondary schools are judged by Ofsted as inadequate or requiring improvement. While the north’s primary schools perform only slightly worse than those in London, at secondary schools the gap widens considerably, with northern children 13 points, or one whole grade, behind at GCSE.

Ms Roche, who lead the review group that included Sir Michael Wilshaw, former Chief Inspector of Ofsted, and a range of headteachers, educational charities and businesses, said: “This report should act as a wake-up call to everyone involved in education and skills in realising how far the north is behind the rest of the UK and where we need to get to.

“The devastating consequences of disadvantage in the north is fully set out, as is just how far our children from all backgrounds fall behind by the age of 16. These critical issues lead to employers not having a highly-skilled workforce, which is vital for increasing productivity and growth across the north.

“This report examines a child’s journey from the nursery to the workplace, identifying all of the crucial points where intervention is needed to ensure Northern children do not fall behind.

“Our 14 specific and bold recommendations challenge the Government, local authorities, businesses and others to invest in our children and young people to ensure they have the future they deserve.”

Lord Jim O’Neill, NPP vice-chairman and one of the leading figures behind the report, added: “For the Northern Powerhouse to succeed and deliver a north that pulls its weight in economic terms, the first things we have to sort out are education and skills.

“Sorting out schools in the Northern Powerhouse should be at the top of the new Education Secretary’s in-tray and we will be working closely with government to implement our recommendations.

“We have seen how everyone involved in delivering education in London came together to turn their schools around from some of the worst in the country to some of the best. The same can happen in the north, creating an education system capable of delivering a skilled workforce in the north, for the north.”

The five main proposals are:

An initial £300million increase in government funding for disadvantaged areas across the north, creating place-based funds integrated with other services such as health visitors and voluntary sector providers, ensuring every child is school-ready by age five;

Reform Pupil Premium to better target funding for disadvantage by allocating more to pupils eligible for free school meals throughout their schooling, addressing the most entrenched barriers to social mobility;

A longer-term government commitment to Opportunity Areas – a Northern Powerhouse Schools Improvement Board to be established, drawing together existing funding with a dedicated 10-year fund to allow for further Opportunity Areas in the North. In particular, this needs to urgently address the lack of Opportunity Areas in the North East;

Simplify the Northern Regional Schools Commissioners areas to establish three – North West, Yorkshire and North East & Cumbria, working within frameworks and plans set by the Northern Powerhouse Schools Improvement Board. These would make the final decision on regional funding streams for school improvement, challenging poor performance in multi-academy trusts, reallocating schools to those with capability and identifying schools that need rebuilding;

Every northern business to mentor or otherwise meaningfully reach out on careers and enterprise skills to at least the same number of young people as they have employees, from the age of 11. This would see 900,000 young people given experience of work.

Mike Parker, SCHOOLS NorthEast director, said: “We welcome the prominence the document gives to issues that we have long discussed in the North East, however, the success of the report will be in the action the Government takes to address the main recommendations that the report outlines.

“In particular, we back the report’s conclusion that the Government has to act urgently to bring its flagship Opportunity Areas support to the North East. SCHOOLS NorthEast has repeatedly challenged the decision not to include this region in a £72million initiative that is also attracting the lion’s share of other school improvement funding and projects to drive up attainment in disadvantaged areas.”