Power Up The North and give all our children the chance of a better life – Anne Longfield

Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield is challenging the next Prime Minister to invest in the North's schools. Photo by Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.
Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield is challenging the next Prime Minister to invest in the North's schools. Photo by Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.
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I KNOW from personal experience the potential and the ambition that exists in the North of England.

I’m lucky to have grown up in a strong community in West Yorkshire, with a very good local school and great teachers, who helped me to think for myself and aim high.

The next Prime Minister must commit to investing in the North's schools, says Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner.

The next Prime Minister must commit to investing in the North's schools, says Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner.

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I brought up my son in the North and it is the place I’m proud to call my home.

I recognise the problems too.

{https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/opinion/columnists/power-up-the-north-must-not-depend-on-boris-johnson-s-hs2-and-brexit-mystery-tour-tom-richmond-1-9831056Power Up The North must not depend on Boris Johnson’s HS2 and Brexit mystery tour – Tom Richmond|Read here}

Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner, is backing the Power Up The North campaign.

Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner, is backing the Power Up The North campaign.

Yes, there are hundreds of thousands of kids in the North who are thriving at excellent schools – schools as good as any in the country in fact. They are doing well and have many opportunities ahead of them.

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But, as my Growing Up North report showed last year, there are also far too many children in some of the most deprived parts of our region who are starting school behind and who never catch up.

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Education investment is a key plank of the Power Up The North campaign.

Education investment is a key plank of the Power Up The North campaign.

Their life chances are nowhere near what they should be.

A few days ago, Education Secretary Damian Hinds talked about the “North-South divide” being too simplistic a
term. He’s right about that, but the fact remains that there are more poor schools in areas of entrenched disadvantage in the North, and it doesn’t have to be like this.

Twenty years ago, many inner city London schools were failing to provide the start in life that children are entitled to.

When government focused on improving those schools, with investment, incentives and fresh ideas, it worked.

Will the next Prime Minister invest in the North's schools?

Will the next Prime Minister invest in the North's schools?

Today many of these schools, often in areas of deprivation, far outperform their equivalents in the North.

That’s why the Northern Powerhouse Project is so important.

And why as we mark its fifth anniversary, it is time for action to improve schools and outcomes for every child living in the North.

Of course things aren’t always
what they seem and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) and the University of Bristol will shortly publish new national tables on pupil progress, showing how many schools judged as ‘‘below average’’ are actually performing much better once pupil’s characteristics and backgrounds are taken into
 account.

The NPP will also show how two out of every three secondary schools with the highest levels of long term disadvantaged pupils in England are located in the Powerhouse area.

Staggeringly, more disadvantaged children live in the North than the rest of the country put together and as report after report makes clear, long term disadvantaged children start behind and remain behind.

So what needs to be done?

This analysis makes an unarguable case for extra funding to be targeted at those communities in the North with the highest levels of disadvantage.

An extra billion pounds of investment, providing around £1m extra for each secondary school, £1m to be shared with feeder primary schools and £1m to be invested in vital early years services, would be transformative.

A Northern Schools Board, to take greater oversight of school improvements in the Northern Powerhouse, would also be a powerful too.

In the coming weeks we will have a new Prime Minister.

I want to hear him make clear, early in his premiership, that every child in the North should have the best opportunities to go to a good school and to make their way in the world.

The unprecedented backing given
 to the Power Up The North campaign
by this newspaper and other titles
shows how impatient we all are to get on with it.

We should be optimistic.

The North has a bounce and confidence –- just look at the decision to move C4 to Leeds, the new Eden Project in Morecambe, and the scores of small start-ups popping up.

Our mayors and council leaders are of course getting on with it themselves anyway – whether that’s being at the forefront of tackling obesity in Leeds or encouraging the tech sector to invest in Sheffield.

But this is just scratching the surface. Imagine what the North could be for this generation of children and those to come. And then let’s make it happen.

Whoever enters 10 Downing Street in the coming weeks has to catch up with the ambitions of Northerners and the Northern Powerhouse.

We want our kids to grow up in a brilliant place, go to great schools, to go on to university or into excellent apprenticeships, and to find good jobs with prospects.

The new Prime Minister must show he does too – and fast.

Anne Longfield OBE is the Children’s Commissioner for England. She comes from Otley.