The future of Yorkshire is dependent upon tackling an uncomfortable truth; while many of the region’s schools produce outstanding success stories, too many do not.
Parents in Yorkshire today have a harder task finding a good school than in any other part of England.
A child growing up in the county is less likely to go to a school rated as good, grasp the three Rs at primary school level, achieve national GCSE targets at secondary or go into a job, university or college course after they leave school than those living in the regions in the south.
The solution will not come overnight, but as a county it cannot be accepted that a young person’s life chances are restricted because they live in parts of Yorkshire where pupils have never done well in school.
London schools’ exam results were once among the worst in the country and now they are among the best. One of the major reasons for this transformation was the City Challenge - a London wide school improvement programme which allowed experts and leading teachers to support schools. Such approaches have also proved successful in West Midlands and Greater Manchester. Now councils are working on a Yorkshire wide project but so far only on a small scale. What is needed is a more ambitious programme. This requires political leadership at both a local and national level and as crucially it requires paying for. Whether this is directly from the Department for Education or as a result of greater devolved spending powers heading North is a matter for further debate. What is beyond doubt is that this change is needed.
Funding work to transform educational attainment in the North has to be at the heart of any future Government’s efforts to rebalance the economy and promote growth.
Work so far has been on a small scale. Yorkshire is well placed to have a regional challenge programme but this would need a strong political mandate.Prof Mel Ainscow
The Government should also recognise the importance of the regional imbalances in the country by being held to account for the performance of schools in different regions.
Politicians have, quite rightly, talked about the importance of closing the attainment gap between rich and poor. But they should also focus on the huge variations of academic achievement in different parts of the country. Any Government’s education policies cannot be hailed a success if by 2020 it is still the case that a child in Yorkshire is less likely to go to a good school or reach the expected standards in GCSEs than those elsewhere . It is also important that education reforms do not widen this gap. This means any steps to create regional pay for people working in schools must be resisted. Yorkshire needs to ensure that its schools can attract and retain the best teachers available. Creating a system of regional pay risks a draining talent away from regions like Yorkshire if it becomes more lucrative to work elsewhere.
The next Government should ensure there are incentives for teachers to work in the most challenging circumstances. There should also be incentives to ensure that businesses work with schools. Young people need to leave school ready for further or higher education, training or the world of work and this must be done in partnership with business. The next Government should look to roll out the approach used here in Yorkshire through the Ahead Partnership which sees businesses partnered with schools to provide mentoring support.
Schools funding has already been at the heart of the election campaign but there has not been sufficient attention paid to ensuring that a new fairer funding formula is created - and that this ensures rural schools remain viable. This should be a priority for the next Education Secretary whatever their political persuasion.
IN FULL: OUR YORKSHIRE MANIFESTO...