North-south divide makes little difference once pupil background is considered - study

The performance of children in the north of England is not “much different” to that of those based in London once pupils’ backgrounds are accounted for, a new study has claimed.

The findings follow a story in the Sunday Times, which claimed was a “huge gap” in attainment between the south and north, leaving “thousands of northern youngsters without the qualifications they need for a degree”.

White British, long-term disadvantaged pupils perform no better in London and the south than elsewhere

Former Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw told the newspaper: “These kids are not different from the kids I taught in London 10 years ago, but they are not in good schools with good leaders.”

A study published this morning by Education Datalab found that 16 of the 18 lowest-performing local authorities based on provisional progress 8 data for 2019 are in the north.

However, once factors known to influence progress 8, such as gender, disadvantage and ethnic background were accounted-for, scores for councils in the north east all improved, while scores for London boroughs “tend to fall”.

Dave Thomson, chief statistician at Datalab, said: “On the basis of this analysis, it does not appear that the performance of local authorities in the north east is much different to those in London.”

He also added that some groups of pupils haven’t benefitted from the “London effect”.

“White British, long-term disadvantaged pupils perform no better in London and the south than elsewhere,” he said. If anything, they appeared to perform better in Yorkshire and the Humber than anywhere else.”

Thomson added: “Wilshaw claims that ‘these kids [in northern schools] are not different from the kids I taught in London 10 years ago but they are not in good schools with good leaders’.”

“The first part is certainly questionable. The second part may be true, but evidence other than attainment data would be needed to support it.”

The Sunday Times also reported new free schools are planned in five northern areas – Hartlepool, Knowsley, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Stockton-on-Tees – as well as in Stoke-on-Trent.

Plans reportedly include a specialist cricket school to “inspire white working-class boys”.

Unity Howard, director of the charity New Schools Network, which supports free schools, said: “We’ve had some great successes with Saracens Rugby Club and Everton FC setting up free schools, and we’d love to see that replicated with cricket — just think of the impact on white working-class aspirations that a cricket school fronted by someone like Ben Stokes could have in a town in the northwest.”

However Thomson added: “Rather than policies and interventions that are geographically targeted, we need policy that raises the attainment of low attaining pupils in all schools all over the country.”