Government needs to dream 'bigger' and be 'bolder' for children in the North, says Yorkshire education leaders

The Government is being urged to dream “bigger” and be “bolder” for the children of the North.

It comes amid mounting criticism from education and business leaders that an educational scheme - which has raised standards in three areas of Yorkshire - does not come “close” to helping tackle the generations of structural educational inequalities.

The call to action comes as the Government confirmed £18m for its Opportunity Areas programme, including £3m funding for the three across the region: Bradford, Doncaster and the North Yorkshire coast.

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Introduced in 2017, the Government’s created opportunity areas are 12 social mobility “coldspots” that have so far received £90m to cover the period up to August this year.

The Government is being urged to dream “bigger” and be “bolder” for the children of the North by education and business leaders in Yorkshire.

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Special report - The Widening Education Gap

But education and business leaders in Yorkshire have warned the funding is “tokenistic” and doesn’t “come close” to tackle an education system in the North that has been beset with inequalities based on region which is stifling children’s ambition.

Samantha Twiselton, deputy for the Doncaster opportunity area, told The Yorkshire Post: “We would have hoped the funding would have been extended for a much longer time scale because what we are trying to achieve in the opportunity areas isn’t a quick fix.

“The whole North, and particularly the most deprived bits of it need more money and we need a much longer term plan for education everywhere but particularly in the North in the most deprived communities.

Pcitured, Samantha Twiselton, deputy for the Doncaster Opportunity Area. she said: “We would have hoped the funding would have been extended for a much longer time scale because what we are trying to achieve in the opportunity areas isn’t a quick fix." Photo credit: Submitted picture

Ms Twiselton added she hoped the latest funding was a “stop gap” for government and a long term plan - akin to that which saw standards raised in the capital by the Labour government of the early 2000s - was in the pipeline for the North.

She said: “It’s a little bit hand to mouth at the moment...I’m hoping it’s a stop gap while they come up with something bigger and bolder and longer term and more sustained.

“It’s still a little bit tokenistic - if you compare it to London Challenge which was so successful - that had a lot more money and more sustained time.”

Rotherham-born Former Education Secretary Justine Greening, the architect of the opportunity areas programme during her time in government, said the Government needed to commit to expanding the educational scheme across the region.

Sarah Mulholland, head of Policy at the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

Ms Greening said: “Levelling up starts with education and this can make a real difference to children and young people’s futures in the region. I hope that the Prime Minister’s planned Levelling Up White Paper later in the year will announce a wave of new Opportunity Areas across the region to have even more impact for more communities.”

While the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) - a lobbying group representing northern businesses - said clarity was needed from Government over the long-term investment in the Opportunity Areas programme in the North of England.

Sarah Mulholland, head of Policy at the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: "The announcement doesn’t go far enough. Our research shows that disadvantage was a growing problem even before the pandemic - and this has only got worse over the past twelve months.

“While the extension is welcome, we need to keep momentum up by delivering clarity on what will happen after this ends, as well as expanding the funding more widely across the North.

The original Opportunity Areas policy was announced in 2016 by former Education Secretary Justine Greening. Photo credit: JPIMedia

“Most importantly, Opportunity Areas must get support from across Government, and be broadened to address challenges beyond the school gates, such as housing.”

Dr Helen Rafferty, interim chief executive of North of England education charity SHINE, said the organisation "had hoped" for more than a single year’s extension of the programme.

Dr Rafferty said: "Sustained, targeted investment, over a long period of time, is essential if real change is to be delivered for these young people, so we would urge the government to make a longer-term commitment to Opportunity Areas.

“It is essential that lessons are learned from the pilot schemes and that a clear, cohesive methodology is adapted for use within these areas. We particularly welcome the development of collaborations between Opportunity Areas to ensure that successes are built upon and impact is maximised.

“Opportunity Areas can make a real difference, but only if the investment is sustained, learning is continuous and local voices are included.”

Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, added: “Every child should have the chance to do well at school and succeed in life, no matter which part of the country they grow up in.”

Michelle Donelan, the Opportunity areas Minister, said: “Opportunity Areas have been making a real difference in levelling up the outcomes for children and young people in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country, from early years into employment.

"We have seen this difference in the rising standards in key subjects like maths and phonics, in how the targeted support available is boosting young people’s confidence to succeed and in how each area was able to adapt to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I have seen first-hand how the dedication and commitment of people on the ground in these areas is driving school improvement and removing the barriers to success. This funding will enable them to continue this important work, help sustain long-term improvements and outcomes, support even more children and young people, and level up standards across England.”

Fifth year of funding for opportunity areas scheme

The largest beneficiary for opportunity area funding in Yorkshire will be Bradford with £1.37m, while Doncaster will receive £1.35m and £884,000 has been allocated to the North Yorkshire Coast.

Derby (£1.2m), Oldham (£1.3m) and Blackpool (£2m) are the other selected opportunity areas in the North; while West Somerset (£869,000), Norwich (£1.4m), Fenland and East Cambridgeshire (£1.1m), Hastings (£1.1m), Ipswich (£1.2m) and Stoke-on-Trent (£1.3m) complete the set.

During the initial three years, when £72m was spent, children’s reading, writing and maths scores at primary school level increased in the three areas by 12 per cent above the national average - with Bradford seeing the biggest improvements - 16 per cent.

There, 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

The North Yorkshire Coast has seen a teacher recruitment campaign fill 225 vacancies across 45 schools, with 40 staff coming from outside the area.

The original policy was announced in 2016 by former Education Secretary Justine Greening.

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