Is there a north-south divide in education?

Results from a 12-month report suggest that deprived children living in northern areas of the country will have fewer prospects during adulthood than their southern counterparts.
The Growing Up North, Look North report was managed by England’s Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, who spent the last year researching and conversing with various professionals from the education, health and business sectors across the country.
With 30% of children believed to be in poverty, there is no north-south divide with percentage figures fluctuating across the country. However, this latest report suggests that too many children are starting school behind where they should be – a common problem noted by Headteachers and Foundation teachers across East Midlands in particular. The general consensus is that each cohort is attending school with an average lower ability level than the one that went before it.
The north-south divide appears to grow when children go to secondary school, according to the research. The Commissioner found that more than 50% of the North’s most deprived secondary schools are rated lower than ‘good’ by Ofsted. A child from London on free school meals is believed to have a 40% more chance of achieving A* to C grade GCSEs in Maths and English than a counterpart further north. This statistic underpins data from the Digital Education Resource Archive (DERA) in 2015 suggesting that a pupil from a disadvantaged background in London was 41% more likely to achieve five A* – C grade GCSEs than someone from a similar background in the north.
Further education is also a concern presented by the report. The North is home to eight of the ten highest pupil exclusion areas, whilst large numbers of children are dropping out of education before they reach 18. According to DERA, a young person from the South-East is 57% more likely to go to a top university, underpinned by the Commissioner’s research that states a child on free school meals in Hackney, London is three times more likely to go to university than someone from a similar background in Hartlepool.
It all equates to an alarming concern in the North East where they consistently achieve some of the best primary school results but present the lowest average household incomes, as suggested by DERA.
Anne Longford notes a variety of reasons for the perceived north-south divide, including: “a lack of confidence, uncertainty and low expectation, isolated communities with narrow and poor job prospects, poor school results and poor connections to further and higher education. Children in some areas look at new developments in the North but have little hope they might feel the benefits or have increased choices in life as a result.”
The Government have responded by stating they have provided £70 million to improve schools in the region but Mrs Longfield wants to see more. She has suggested:

  • improving the North’s secondary schools in the most deprived areas with a renewed focus on teaching recruitment and leadership.
  • a plan to ensure children are in apprenticeships, training or education until the age of 18.
  • greater investment for struggling families.

We would like to hear your thoughts on this. Do you see a north-south divide? Do you have any experiences of such situations? Tweet us at @Evolve_Impact.