An influential group of MPs has written to the education secretary to demand immediate improvement to education in the north of England.
The parliamentary education committee wrote to Damian Hinds after a hearing last week with former chancellor George Osborne and other representatives of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership highlighted a “stark educational attainment gap between the north and other parts of England, particularly for disadvantaged pupils”.
Now Robert Halfon, a former education minister who chairs the committee, has asked what action the Department for Education is taking to implement recommendations from the partnership’s latest report. These include a proposal to “better target” pupil premium funding at the most disadvantaged, and improve careers guidance for the poorest pupils.
Halfon said the recent ‘Educating the north’ report showed “clear analysis of the challenges” facing the region, and an “important role for the Department for Education to play” in tackling these problems.
“At the end of key stage 4, Attainment 8 scores of northern pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds were 13 points behind those of their fellow pupils,” he said.
“Northern pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve lower attainment levels than disadvantaged pupils elsewhere in the country (1.3 points below the national average and 6.5 points below their peers in London).”
During last week’s hearing, Lord O’Neill, the former treasury minister and vice-chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, claimed that “not a great deal” of the government’s Northern Powerhouse Education Fund has been spent.
In his letter, Halfon demanded an update on the money. He also requested details of the government’s plans to improve teacher recruitment and retention in the north, and how the government’s careers strategy will benefit the region. This follows a recommendation from the partnership that schools be measured on the employability and success of their pupils at age 25.
Hinds also faces questions from MPs about the contrast between the success of some large MATs in London and recent high-profile failures of others in the north.
The issues are expected to be discussed during Hinds’ next appearance in front of the committee. He faced his first interrogation on March 21, when the committee discussed multi-academy trust inspections from Ofsted, home schooling, exclusions practice and illegal schools.