ASKED at Prime Minister’s Questions last week to praise two West Yorkshire academies, Theresa May noted, gleefully, that there are now an additional 1.8 million children in attendance at ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools than there were in 2010.
This should not be begrudged. Teachers and students have worked extremely hard across the country to meet the Government’s more rigorous expectations. The issue is a North-South divide in academic attainment which is fundamental to this region’s future.
For, while 94 per cent of secondary-age children in London attend schools now rated ‘good’ or better to use Mrs May’s definition, just 74 per cent of students across the North have this good fortune according to the Northern Powerhouse Partnership headed by George Osborne, the former Chancellor, and Lord Jim O’Neill, a former Treasury Minister. This falls to a perturbing 50 per cent in the most disadvantaged areas, where the need for more investment, and focus, is at its greatest.
And while some will contend that Mr Osborne could – and should – have done more to end this imbalance when he ran the Treasury, he, and Lord O’Neill, will be making a powerful and persuasive case when they give evidence to the Education Select Committee today.
Mr Osborne’s first appearance in Parliament since last year’s election, he knows more than most that education – and skills – are integral to the region’s future economic prospects. If school-leavers and graduates don’t have the requisite skills, entrepreneurs will not invest here.
He will know that London’s schools are now the envy of the country because they enjoyed unrivalled investment, but his Northern Powerhouse Partnership has – to its credit – come up with a five-point plan which attempts to confront this region’s specific requirements.
Unless Ministers have a better solution, they should embrace this blueprint. For if it works and the number of pupils in ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools reaches London’s current level by 2022, an additional 430,000 children will enjoy a better education as a result – a right that they should be afforded if the Government is committed to investing in the future.