Mr Williamson had been due to speak to The Yorkshire Post on his visit to Bradford yesterday, Monday June 14, but the interview was cancelled, amid mounting criticism over the funding for schools catch-up plan and a lack of opportunity for young people in the region.
He was in the region to see first-hand the Opportunity Areas programme - that Universities Minister Michelle Donelan oversees - has brought to students in Bradford.
The scheme - which also operates in Doncaster and the North Yorkshire Coast in the region - has seen attainment levels rise faster than the national average as part of the Government’s drive to boost social mobility in more deprived areas.
While in Bradford more than 200 children across 100 schools also benefited from a ‘glasses in classes’ project, which saw health teams work with schools to ensure children who failed an eye test were provided glasses in school to improve maths and literacy rates.
Mr Williamson said: "Great schools and teachers unlock opportunities for young people to fulfill their potential and I’m incredibly proud of everyone at the forefront of education recovery making sure no child is left behind in their learning."
Reflecting on his visit where he visited Crossley Hall Primary School, in Bradford, and also met representatives from Bradford Teaching School Hub (BTSH), as part of a visit to the area, he said he was “impressed to hear” how the city is identifying health issues early on in a bid to level up education outcomes.
But The Yorkshire Post has previously highlighted calls from education leaders for the Government to expand the Opportunity Areas programme across the whole of the North.
While Mr Williamson’s visit comes amid mounting pressure from this newspaper, and Northern education, business and civic leaders to increase the education recovery programme funding from £3bn.
Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said there was a need for increased devolved powers and the expansion of regional schemes.
This includes Sheffield Hallam University’s mentoring initiative funded by Barnsley Council, which pairs recent graduates with disadvantaged GCSE pupils.
Mr Murison said: “I made it clear to the Secretary of State that central government supporting initiatives such as these, allowing tutoring funding to be spent on mentoring, would make a real difference in repairing some of the damage from the past year.
"We now must give local civic, business and school leaders a greater role in shaping the education recovery, decentralising funding to local leaders to ensure it tackles specific local issues that impact on education."
Susan Hinchcliffe, the leader of Bradford City Council, added much of the attainment gap exists between pupils in Yorkshire and those in London because there is such a high proportion of pupils with disadvantaged backgrounds in the region.
She said: "The Opportunity Area in Bradford has made great strides in giving children better life chances - since the programme started, schools have made continuous improvements and PWC has made major investments in the city.
"This shows the power of addressing barriers to education at a local level, tackling the wider challenges facing children in disadvantaged areas such as health inequality.
"Tragically Yorkshire has a far higher number of children from less well-off backgrounds, meaning the effect of the education disadvantage gap is even more apparent here.
"Consequently, the EEF is right to put higher targets for amounts of tutoring here, with the National Tutoring Service arriving after council funding had already been committed.”
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