New Eton schools won't solve 'widening education gap' in the North, says education leaders

The Department for Education has been accused of failing to rise to the challenge of raising attainment in the North of England, by education and business leaders in Yorkshire.

The warning comes as a school famous for educating the elite has agreed a partnership with an academy trust, which has schools in Yorkshire, to help poorer pupils in the North

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Widening education gap in Yorkshire and the North

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Eton, the elite private college for boys, famous for schooling royalty and children of the nation’s wealthiest families, has signed a deal with Star Academies Trust, which runs schools in Bradford, as first reported by The Times on the weekend.

The Department for Education has been accused of failing to rise to the challenge of raising attainment in the North of England, by education and business leaders in Yorkshire. Photo credit: PA

The trust, which also runs schools in Lancashire, Greater Manchester, the Midlands and London, will open three highly selective state sixth forms in deprived northern areas.

It has not yet been revealed where the sixth forms will be but Star Academies has confirmed they will be in the North and Midlands and the first should open in September 2024.

But the move has been scoffed at by some education and business leaders across the region, who have said the step “does not begin” to address the challenges faced in education in the North of England.

Professor Chris Husbands, the Vice-Chancellor for Sheffield Hallam University, told The Yorkshire Post: “Adding selective sixth form education in a handful of locations doesn’t begin to address the challenges we face.”

Pictured, Professor Chris Husbands, the Vice-Chancellor for Sheffield Hallam University. Photo credit: JPIMedia

Professor Husbands, who is also the head for the Doncaster Opportunity Area - one of three opportunity areas in the region alongside Bradford and the North Yorkshire Coast - added: “The real challenges are about developing high quality early education and sustaining momentum and excellence across children’s life cycle.

“That demands work across all the partners in education and children’s social care.”

“The real challenges is about developing high quality early education and sustaining momentum and excellence across children’s life cycle.”

A lobbying group representing northern businesses, while welcoming the Eton move, warned the Government needs to invest long-term to create more opportunities across the whole of the North.

Henri Murison, the director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership. Mr Murison said it was a concern that towns in the North, have “very limited” provision to study A-Levels - a barrier he said which was “over and above” the challenges many children face to get to that point. Photo credit: JPIMedia

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said it was a concern that a number towns in the North, have “very limited” provision to study A-Levels - a barrier he said which was “over and above” the challenges many children face to get to that point.

He added: “The government must now ensure all northern children achieve their potential with investment and renewal in the poorest communities.”

Meanwhile the former Children’s Commissioner for England has said the new ‘Eton scheme’ does not replace the need for a long-term investment and an education plan to boost children’s life chances in the North.

Anne Longfield, 60, who lives in Ilkley, said: “The new Etons don’t replace the need for a long term education programme to overcome this education divide but they do symbolise the start of new investments in the north which must be seen in every aspect of our education system.”

Anne Longfield, the former Children’s Commissioner for England. Photo credit: JPIMedia

Previously The Yorkshire Post highlighted Ms Longfield's call for the whole of the North to be turned into an opportunity area.

While Ms Longfield also stressed the need for young people to be at the heart of the vision for the so-called Northern Powerhouse, in a 2018 report - ‘Growing Up North’.

The report was the result of a year-long study looking at the issues and challenges facing children in the North.

Ms Longfield said: "My Growing Up North report highlighted the urgent need for a programme of renewal and investment in education in the north, to overcome the paucity of opportunity that many disadvantaged children face.

"Investing in education and boosting northern children’s life chances must be central to levelling up."

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, said he was 'delighted' to see Star Academies join forces with Eton College to focus on providing exciting opportunities for pupils.

Mr Williamson added: "Our best schools can lead the way in driving up standards across the country.

"And it’s fantastic to see a leading trust like Star working to expand its reach even further into local communities, supported by the resources and expertise of one of the world’s top independent schools, to transform the life chances of young people.

"Projects like these, building on the network of excellent free schools around the country, can help level up opportunities for so many children and families and I wish the teams all the best as they begin the process of turning this pioneering idea into a reality."

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