Rotherham born Justine Greening - the architect of the opportunity areas programme during her time in government - has made an impassioned plea to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ensure more powers are given to local communities to create more opportunities for young people.
The call comes as Northern education leaders have condemned the Government’s education recovery plan and lack of a long term plan for the sector as a whole.
And ahead of the Levelling Up White Paper that will be published in the autumn to deliver on what Boris Johnson says is “the central purpose of his premiership”.
Ms Greening told The Yorkshire Post: “There is a need for a much more comprehensive long-term approach to not only help the children in Yorkshire catch-up from what’s been an incredibly disrupted period in their education but also more than that - as The Yorkshire Post knows - to close some of the gaps that were there before.”
Ms Greening, who was Education Secretary for two years under former Prime Minister Tereasa May, added that Mr Johnson must deliver the agenda promised during the General Election to the North.
She said: “We are still waiting for that much more comprehensive education plan that helps level up through education.
“I hope that will be a core part of the Levelling Up White Paper which the Prime Minister sets out in the autumn. We do need to see much more meat on the bones.”
Reflecting on the past 18 months in education, Ms Green, the founder of the Social Mobility Pledge campaign which is a coalition of 450 businesses globally and more than 50 universities including seven institutes in Yorkshire, warned the Department for Education and the Prime Minister “must do better” and aim higher for children in the region.
She said: “The Department for Education has found it hard to get ahead of the curve right the way through this pandemic crisis.
“The key is less who is in that role as Secretary of State and who the Education Ministers are - it’s more about having the right plan.
“There has to be a much more integrated plan across government on levelling-up and education must be a core part of that.”
Ms Greening reiterated a previous call made via The Yorkshire Post to expand the current number of three opportunity areas in the region - in Bradford, Doncaster and the North Yorkshire coast.
She said: “I hope more opportunity areas happen on the ground and there’s not a moment to waste.
“I think everybody recognises how disruptive the school shut down had been and everybody recognises it’s been the most disruptive for disadvantaged young people who were already the furthest behind arguably in the start.”
The Department for Education said the Government is committed to “levelling up outcomes” for every young person, no matter where they live.
A spokeswoman said: "This government is focused on levelling up opportunity so that no young person is left behind.
"That’s why we are providing the biggest uplift to school funding in a decade – £14 billion over three years – investing in early years education and targeting our ambitious recovery funding, worth £3 billion to date, to support disadvantaged pupils aged two to 19 with their attainment."
A special Yorkshire Post report includes:
- Parents, headteachers, university students and leaders open up about the challenges to education over the past 18 months.
- Anne Longfield, the former Children's Commissioner for England, has called for a 10-year education plan, including the creation of a northern learning team, to be instigated to help combat a a “triple whammy” of disadvantage for thousands of children across the region and give pupils the “rightful” support to ensure they fulfil their full potential.
- Labour Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green said due to a number of Department of Education “fiascos” over the past 16 months including the exams chaos of last summer when an algorithm “cheated children of results”, a government u-turn on free school meals and “last minute”planning, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is “not fit” to remain in post.
- A Northern education leader has warned of a “perfect storm” across the region ahead of exam results next month.
- The Government should prioritise digital devices and the internet amid concerns that the region will see an “huge” skills gap for the future, a Yorkshire business leader has claimed.
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