Make fixing the north-south education divide an economic priority
We are writing to you on behalf of our organisations representing school leaders, educational innovators and northern business and civic leaders to share our deep concerns about the widening north-south divide in education, and the lasting impact this has on our economy and our ability to bring opportunity to young people from all backgrounds.
Last week young people across the country at schools and colleges received their results for A-Levels, BTECs and, for the first time, T-Levels. They have had to overcome huge challenges over the past couple of years and it looks like the issue of regional disparities in attainment is getting worse, not better. Nowhere is the impact of this starker than in the North East. The gap between the North East and South East (the highest performing region in 2019 and 2022) at A-Level has widened from 5.3% to 8.7%. The region saw the smallest number of students achieving A* and A grades in the country, with a total of 30.8% achieving those grades, compared with 39.5% in the South East. Children here are just as bright, just as talented and have just as much to offer – so what is going wrong and what can we do to fix it?
Research shows that the intersection between long-term deprivation and certain ethnic groups, including White and Black Caribbean, is the strongest predictor of low attainment. Analysis from the Northern Powerhouse Partnership and FFT Education Datalab last year found that 10.1% of pupils in the North East were found to fall into these high-impact groups – double the national average. The North West was found to have the second highest proportion of these children, with 7.3%, followed by Yorkshire and the Humber with 6%. In contrast, just 2.8 per cent of pupils in Outer London were found to be long-term disadvantaged and also in the high impact group.
We also know that the impact of deep-seated disadvantage on education has been exacerbated by the disproportionate learning loss felt during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research from FFT Education Datalab highlighted that pupils in the North East missed 15.3% of lessons in academic year 2020/21 and the autumn term 2021/22, compared with 11.6% of lessons lost in London and 11.9% in the South East. Many children, especially those from less well-off backgrounds, were unable to learn at home effectively without the necessary equipment. This is the context, rather than any type of excuse. It is a false narrative that North East or wider northern schools and teachers are failing students. Too often in current measurements of school performance, economic and geographical factors are mistakenly presented as educational ones. This year’s results can be seen as a ‘map’ of the impact of the pandemic on students and schools.