Northern leaders have warned the education gap could thwart leveling ambitions

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Former Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield

Ms Longfield, of Otley, said the gap widened during the pandemic as thousands of northern children from poorest communities were even further behind when their schools were closed and they were n could not access a laptop for distance learning.

Speaking at the Great Northern Conference, she said underprivileged students are on average 18 months behind the rest of the class in terms of academic achievement by age 16 and although that number has increased from five months for the children of the North East, it has only increased by two and a half months for the pupils of London.

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Children with free school meals in the capital are four times more likely to “get a good GCSE in math and English” than their counterparts in the North and are twice as likely to go to university, she added.

At the conference, she called on political leaders and businesses to support schools and ensure that children of all backgrounds have the resources and opportunities they need to reach their full potential.

“For me, it’s a question of education, but it’s also an economic question. If we are to increase the productivity of the North, we must invest in the workforce of tomorrow, ”she said.

“Boosting opportunities and supporting education can bring about this transformational change, to help children live in the places they want to live, close to the communities and families they love, but also to have access to these opportunities. “

Speaking at the conference, Natalie Doherty, Director of Quality, Programs and Innovation at Source Skills Academy, said companies need to “invest in young people” and provide them with opportunities to help them find jobs. .

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak said in his budget speech on Wednesday that the government would help schools and colleges recover from education after the pandemic with “nearly £ 5 billion” in catch-up investments.

But the additional £ 1.8bn money – made available on top of the £ 3.1bn already pledged – has been criticized, with Britain’s largest teachers’ union calling the stimulus package ” inadequate”.

It comes after Sir Kevan Collins, the former school catch-up czar, stepped down in June after the amount ministers were willing to invest in resuming education fell short of what it believed necessary. He had proposed a three-year £ 15 billion stimulus package.

Earlier this month, the government released figures showing that the gap between the poorest students and their wealthiest peers attending college has widened to the biggest gap in 14 years.

The better-off students are still significantly more likely to go to university than their lower-income peers, and the gap between the two groups – 19.1 percentage points – is the largest since 2005/06.

Data from the Department of Education (DfE) shows that 26.6% of students in England who received free school meals (FSM) by the age of 15 attended university in 2019/20, compared to 45.7% of those who did not benefit. receive meals.


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