For a long time now I have believed that the North of England is a sleeping giant. It is often said by commentators in the nation’s capital that large parts of Yorkshire and the North are being left behind. I beg to differ. We aren’t being left behind; we are being held back.
This is very apparent if you consider the situation in relation to education. Our children are our future and they are central to making the North great again. But our education system urgently needs fairer funding.
It is unacceptable that the Government spends almost £1,000 more per year on a child’s education in London than in Yorkshire. That’s 20 per cent more, every year of every child’s schooling. The average size of a class is now 21 in secondary schools and 27 in primary schools, so by my calculation each classroom group in Yorkshire is underfunded relative to London by more than £20,000 per annum.
And the cuts fall unevenly too. Wakefield schools, for example, will have lost approximately £6,400 more in cuts than schools in the Prime Minister’s area, Windsor and Maidenhead, between 2015/2016 and 2019/2020. Okay, the costs in London and the South-East are somewhat greater than they are here. But is the formula correct when it produces such a differential? I don’t think so. The formula works against the interests of children in Yorkshire.
In my own constituency, we’ll have lost more than £3.5m in education cuts. That’s fewer teachers, fewer support workers, maybe even fewer books, in an area that needs more not less education support. Class sizes are rising rapidly too. Almost two thirds of secondary schools in England have increased the size of their classes in the last two years. In York, secondary schools have an average of three more students in every class by comparison with the national average.
In this age of austerity, where everything is being cut back at a rapid rate, the damage to our schools and therefore our children is substantial.
But schools don’t operate in a vacuum. The context in which a school operates has a significant effect. Child poverty is rising. Three out of 10 of our children in Yorkshire live in poverty. That is more than a quarter of a million Yorkshire children. Can anyone honestly suggest that a hungry child is capable of focusing on the educational content of what the teacher is saying?
According to the Department for Education, by the end of primary school, pupils receiving free school meals are estimated to be almost three terms behind their more affluent peers.
The effect of this is to further increase the workload of teachers and reduce the level of individual support available to those who might need it. To put it simply, the education of our children suffers, and it is often those from poor backgrounds who pay the highest price.
The odds are highly stacked against our children. They are unfairly disadvantaged by a system that only works for the few, not the many. Though pundits often like to talk of ‘difficult choices’, many of the problems I have outlined here have a relatively easy solution: proper investment. Because cuts have consequences. Our education outcomes are simply not as good as they ought to be.
While 70 per cent of pupils in London now achieve five A*-C GCSEs, just 63 per cent manage the same in Yorkshire and Humber, according to the Social Market Foundation think-tank.
Although I strongly believe that education is about much more than preparing people for work, it’s clear that all of this has economic consequences for the North. We know that people in the North are not afraid of hard work. After all we helped to create the wealth of the country in previous decades. But a less skilled workforce will not be as productive or as well-paid as it might be. Because our economy in Yorkshire has been severely weakened since the crash, we are losing many of our best young minds. Fifteen graduates leave Yorkshire for London for every one that heads the other way. There is a brain drain going on. Our best and brightest are doing what we in the North always did: they are bringing creativity and dynamism to our world. But we need them to stay here in the North where surely their hearts must remain.
The Government has got its priorities wrong. Austerity has been a mistake. And we in the North have been among its biggest victims. It’s time to rebuild the Yorkshire economy, end child poverty, to properly fund our public services and to restore fair funding so that all children are given the best chance in life.
Jon Trickett is Labour MP for Hemsworth.