Children’s commissioner launches ‘growing up north’ — a project to collect data on the northern education gap

Children's commissioner launches 'growing up north' — a project to collect data on the northern education gap

The children’s commissioner Anne Longfield will lead a project aimed at addressing educational inequality in the north of England

Over the next year, Longfield will be joined by a panel of politicians, academics, sports, charities and cultural leaders for her growing up north project, which will gather data on children in the region to examine factors that influence their progression.

She will look at the issues facing the north in the context of ongoing regeneration of the region, including the government’s northern powerhouse strategy.

We need to understand why children do better in some parts of the country

Longfield, the former chief executive of charity 4 Children, has been in post since March 2015 and has a statutory duty to “promote and protect the rights of all children in England”.

The growing up north project will bring together data on pupil outcomes in order to “increase understanding” of regional differences, and Longfield hopes by the end of the year to be able to identify “where children are excelling and where they are being left behind”.

She also wants to look at the ways in which children’s ambitions are shaped by their experiences and “try to appreciate the choices facing young people when they plan for their future”, and will assess the opportunities available to young people between and within different regions.

The year will culminate in a set of recommendations for local, regional and national government, highlighting opportunities presented by devolution to “further children’s interests and the challenges that need to be overcome if regeneration is to succeed”.

“The economic disadvantage of the north is well established but as a place for children to grow up the reality is far more complex,” said Longfield. “Whilst there are parts of the north where children fall behind there are places where they excel.

“The regeneration underway provides a unique opportunity to reshape prospects for children in the north. I want every child, wherever they are born, to be get the same opportunities and support to prosper.

“To do this, we need to understand why children do better in some parts of the country than others and what it is about the place they grow up in that supports them to succeed.”

It is not known if there is a specific budget for the project, or if it will be funded through her office’s existing funding.

Longfield’s expert advisory board includes Liverpool Wavertree MP Luciana Burger, former Conservative MP and employment minister Esther McVey and councillors Sean Anstee and Judith Blake, the leaders of Trafford and Leeds councils.

Also on the board is Anna Vignoles, director of the University of Cambridge’s institute of education and Lucy Beaumont, the comedian and former teacher.

It is not the first major project to look at educational inequality in the north.

The ‘north-south divide’ has been a key focus for the Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw in his past two annual reports.

Wilshaw has also previously warned about the threat of pupil performance in cities such as Manchester and Liverpool to the future of the government’s northern powerhouse policy.

And a recent review of schools and the northern powerhouse by Dixons Academies chief executive Sir Nick Weller has found that teacher effectiveness is the “most important determinant of pupil outcomes” in the region, and called for action to improve the situation.

In his report, Weller recommended improvements to the teacher supply model so it takes “better account of local need”, and proposes a pilot of a new ‘teach north’ scheme to attract and retain newly-qualified teachers in the region’s disadvantaged schools.

A Social Market Foundation commission on educational inequality, chaired by the former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, has also looked at the north in detail.

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