This year’s GCSE results for England and Wales are expected to confirm a widening gap in education between the north and south, prompting predictions that the government will miss one of its key attainment targets if it continues to hold back pupils in the north of England.
A coalition of school leaders, charities and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership have written to Conservative leadership candidates urging them to commit to tackling growing regional disparities in education.
They predicted Thursday’s results would show 24.4% of pupils in the north-east of England would get a GSCE grade seven or above, compared with 37.8% in London. The forecast follows “stark” regional disparities revealed in last week’s A-level results, with top grades falling faster in the North East compared to the South East.
A joint letter from Risha Sunak and Liz Truss said the government’s target of raising exam standards in the worst-performing areas by 2030 would not happen unless the meeting addressed “place-related issues such as health and housing”. the same time.
The letter to Northern Powerhouse, Schools North East and education charity Shine said: “Regional attainment gaps are getting worse, not better.”
It adds that the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated existing regional shortages, and that failures to implement a national tutoring program aimed at compensating for learning lost during the pandemic have only exacerbated the problem. Only 58.8% of targeted schools in the Northeast benefited from the program compared to 96.1% of targeted schools in the Southeast and 100% in the Southwest, the letter said.
Labor blamed the government for the lack of children in poor areas. Shadow Schools Minister Stephen Morgan said: “Young people achieving results have worked incredibly hard, but 12 years of Conservative government have left a legacy of uneven outcomes that are holding children and communities back.”
Labor said that in Knowsley, a poor area of Liverpool, less than 40% of pupils achieved GCSEs in English and maths last year, compared with more than 70% in affluent areas such as Trafford in Greater Manchester, Kingston upon Thames. in south-west London and Buckinghamshire.
Henri Murison, chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership and one of the letter’s signatories, said that despite the government’s rhetoric about raising standards, its record in office only increased regional disparities.
“The government was doing more to tackle the educational gap in the poorest areas before leveling up was invented than it is now,” he said.
“The mismanagement of the national tutoring program and issues with the laptop scheme created an internal problem across all year groups. It means we will get even worse results in the north of England than we have for the last 10 years.”
Murison accused the Department for Education (DfE) of “deliberate cuts… by scrapping opportunity zones and replacing them with central budgets without local control and guaranteed funding. It’s a scandal for individual children and for families in these poor neighborhoods.”
He said: “The reason A-levels, and we expect GCSEs, have been so disappointing in the north of England is because this government has failed the most disadvantaged children in society. Someone has to answer for this.
“The next chancellor should just bypass the DfE completely when it comes to this issue and spend the money directly in local places.
“Before the pandemic there was already a large gap at Year 7 and above between London and the North East, Yorkshire and the North West. We predict that this will increase significantly after Thursday’s results.”
The quality of teaching in the north was not an issue, Murison added. “In the North East of England, 10% of children in schools receive free school meals throughout their secondary school years. On the outskirts of London it is only about 2%. If schools in London taught children in the North East, they would get very different results.’
The DfE said: “We have set out a range of measures to help raise the standard of education across England, including targeted support both for individual pupils who are falling behind and for whole areas of the country where standards are the weakest. This is alongside £5bn to help young people recover from the pandemic, including £1.5bn for tutoring programmes.
“Pupil Premium funding also increases to more than £2.6 billion in 2022-23, while an extra £1 billion allows us to extend the Recovery Premium for the next two academic years – funding that schools can use to to offer targeted academic and emotional support to disadvantaged learners.’