An education commission set up by The Times, which will run until next summer, met for the first time to collect evidence in Bradford yesterday, Wednesday, July 7.
The commission aims to help provide an independent voice to help address a ‘widening’ education gap particularly for northern young people.
Its focus is to drive equality of opportunity at key life stages, from early years through to careers, alongside the barriers such as the digital divide, with the aim to lead the Government to make radical change across schools and universities.
Rachel Sylvester, the chair of The Times Education Commission, said that Boris Johnson must deliver the agenda promised during the General Election to the North and place education at the heart of its policy.
She said: “The pandemic has exposed profound flaws in education including a widening attainment gap and a curriculum and assessment system that are failing to equip young people with the skills employers need.
“The commission has been set up to draw up proposals for reform that make the system fairer, more relevant and fit for the 21st century, right from early years through to further education, higher education and lifelong learning.
“We’ve come to Bradford for our first regional round table to hear from local education experts, businesses and community leaders because education must be at the heart of the government’s levelling up agenda.”
Providing evidence to the commission yesterday included West-Yorkshire born Anne Longfield, the former Children’s Commissioner for England, Leeds-based education charity Shine and leader of Bradford Council Susan Hinchcliffe, alongside headteachers and teachers in the region.
The call to back the commission comes in the wake of the former education catch-up tsar Sir Kevan Collins, who quit last month saying the Government’s ‘feeble’ approach to helping schoolchildren, with a £1.4bn support package falls “far short” of what is needed.
A lobbying group representing Northern businesses said the sheer scale of the North-South educational gap has been accelerated during the pandemic.
Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said a “significant increase” to the Pupil Premium was needed to ensure those schools in areas of high deprivation are ready and able to meet the challenges they are facing.
He said: "Today is a chance for teachers, school leaders and education experts from across the north to come together to find solutions to the widening education disadvantage gap.
"This includes reforming pupil premium funding so it goes to the children that need it most, such as the long-term disadvantaged and those from ethnic groups who make least progress.
"Northern children in disadvantaged areas have borne the brunt of disruption to learning during the pandemic and it is critical that the education recovery plan is targeted at those who have fallen the furthest behind.
"That means acting quickly to repair some of the damage from the past year, but it's also crucial to plan longer-term to tackle the deep-rooted problems faced by pupils here in the north of England - both inside and outside the classroom."
The Times Education Commission, which launched in June, is currently in its evidence-gathering stages and will run for 12 months.
A Department for Education spokeswoman, said: “Most disadvantaged pupils now attend Good or Outstanding schools and, since 2011, disadvantaged pupils had narrowed the gap with their peers at every stage of education up until the pandemic.
“We have committed to an ambitious, and long-term education recovery plan, including an investment to date of over £3bn and a significant expansion of our tutoring programme, to support children and young people to make up for learning lost during the pandemic."
She added pupil premium funding has risen for the majority of schools, to more than £2.5bn overall this year – an increase of £60 million compared to last year.
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