A stark north/south divide in educational attainment at 16 – particularly for disadvantaged pupils – has been highlighted in a report from the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.
Figures reveal that northern students in receipt of free school meals are achieving significantly worse GCSE results than their southern counterparts – often the equivalent of several grade differences.
These results are creating a skills shortage for employers and, as co-chair of the Northern Powerhouse All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), I am calling for a strong political voice for policies which support the northern economy.
The APPG was set up last year to link Parliamentarians to the Northern Powerhouse Partnership. This report makes it clear that poor skills and inadequate training are both major issues.
It is time for the Government to target pupil premium funding at the most disadvantaged students, as well as improve careers guidance for those who come from the poorest backgrounds.
I must stress, however, that schools throughout Sunderland Central are working extremely hard to produce well educated, well rounded students who can look forward to bright futures.
Indeed, St Anthony’s, Southmoor, St Aidan’s and Monkwearmouth have all achieved above, and beyond, the average “Attainment 8” score of 44.6% in England for performance in up to eight qualifications at Key Stage 4.
There is huge potential in Sunderland and, if students from poorer backgrounds were to attract increased funding, I am sure that schools throughout the city would benefit immeasurably.
Sadly, however, I fear that the Government’s new National Funding Formula – introduced last month to supposedly iron out budget inequalities in different areas – will actually leave schools worse off.
Every single one of the senior schools in my constituency faces losing tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds, from their budgets over the next few years.
Our children deserve a top class education. These cuts, however, will jeopardise all the hard work and dedication of both students and teachers – serving only to increase the north/south divide.
At a time when school budgets are in crisis, and teacher recruitment and retention has never been harder, it is vital that the Government prioritise the children of the north – and their futures.