“My biggest fear is getting it wrong,” he confided to pupils at Pickhill Church of England Primary School in his Richmond constituency.
Yet, while he was speaking in the context of Covid-19 and the Treasury’s unprecedented response so far, it also applies to his forthcoming Budget, Spending Review and a need to put education at the heart of the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.
This is familiar territory for the Chancellor – he was motivated to enter politics by a desire to transform education for all – and he is sympathetic towards The Yorkshire Post’s Power Up The North campaign, which highlighted the North-South attainment gap.
He’s also acutely aware of our more recent calls for the Opportunities Area programme of bespoke support for local areas to be extended across the North because of its success so far.
This pioneering policy is already making a marked difference in Bradford, Doncaster and the North Yorkshire coast after being inspired by Justine Greening when she was Education Secretary.
Now a pre-eminent social mobility campaigner respected by the Chancellor, she wants Mr Sunak to use the Budget to create 100 Opportunity Areas which make funds, and extra teachers, available to help students to improve their basic skills – the key is local leadership responding to specific needs.
And these calls are given added credence today by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which reports that schools serving more deprived pupils have already seen the largest falls in spending per pupil over the last decade, and that the Government’s future spending projections will not do enough to respond to these challenges.
It’s a timely warning that Mr Sunak risks getting it wrong if he doesn’t use his Budget to invest in a generation – and this nation’s future.
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