Education faces the biggest challenge to tackle inequalities in the post-war era, Northern leaders warn

The Government has been warned that it faces the biggest education challenge in the post-war era to ensure that glaring inequalities in education across the nation are not being compounded in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Schools and universities have been blighted by a plethora of challenges during the past 18 months, and as the academic year comes to an end, Ministers have been warned that a clearly defined strategy is needed to ensure students are not left severely disadvantaged by the impact of Covid-19 for the rest of their lives.

Anne Longfield, the former Children’s Commissioner for England, has called for the creation of a northern education department and a “nightingale moment” ahead of the new term to help ensure thousands of young people across the North of England to give pupils the “rightful” support to ensure they fulfil their full potential.

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Special report: Widening education gap
The Government has been warned that it faces the biggest education challenge in the post-war era to ensure that glaring inequalities in education across the nation are not being compounded in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo credit: JPIMedia

A leading charity in the region involved in providing support for vulnerable families has also revealed a stark financial situation as Government social security funding cuts could see more than half a million families affected across Yorkshire and Humber with a devastating impact on young learning for the long term.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation - a charity which researches poverty - told The Yorkshire Post that 600,000 families across Yorkshire and Humber are now facing poverty, and having to choose between school books and food due to planned cuts from the Government.

Meanwhile, Labour estimates some 193,968 children in Yorkshire and Humber will leave school over the next four years without having had any education recovery support.

Ms Longfield, who was born in Otley, told The Yorkshire Post: “With diminished life chances comes diminished life expectancy - to burden a generation of children with a poorer life, even potentially a shorter life because we didn’t have the determination and commitment to help them recover to the scale needed, would be just unbearable and a tragedy for children and their families.”

Pictured Anne Longfield, the former Children’s Commissioner for England. Yorkshire-born Ms Longfield has called for the creation of a northern education department and a “nightingale moment” ahead of the new term to help ensure thousands of young people across the North of England to give pupils the “rightful” support to ensure they fulfill their full potential. Photo credit: JPIMedia

A Yorkshire business leader and founder of a scheme which has provided 14,000 laptops to the most disadvantaged children in the North of England missed by the Government’s scheme has made an impassioned plea for Boris Johnson to end the digital divide.

David Richards, the chief executive for WANdisco plc, said: “You simply can’t have anybody being left behind because they don’t have access to a computer or the internet. It’s unacceptable.”

Mr Richards, who is part of a national task force currently lobbying the Government to provide a reliable and safe secure free internet service for everybody in education, added: “When we look at the scale of the digital problem and talk to people on the ground it is obvious there is a huge problem and something that is threatening the wellbeing of people in our region.”

Rotherham-born former Education Secretary Justine Greening said devolved investment and increased powers at a local level ahead of this autumn’s long-awaited levelling-up White Paper would be vital to ensure an “equal playing field of outcomes” for every young person, no matter where they live.

David Richards, a Yorkshire business man and the chief executive for WANdisco plc. Mr Richards was the founder of a scheme which has provided 14,000 laptops to the most disadvantaged children in the North of England missed by the Government’s laptop scheme. Photo credit: Submitted picture

She said: “We are still waiting for that much more comprehensive education plan that helps level up through education.

“I hope that will be a core part of the levelling-up white paper the Prime Minister sets out in the autumn.”

The Department for Education spokesperson said: “We’re investing £108 million over five years in 12 Opportunity Areas including Bradford, Doncaster and the North Yorkshire Coast to level up opportunities and outcomes for thousands of young people from early years to employment.

"We’re also spreading the impact to other places by sharing funding and expertise, publishing insight guides and hosting webinars on successful projects and working across government on shared goals.

Rotherham-born former Education Secretary Justine Greening said devolved investment and increased powers at a local level ahead of this autumn’s long-awaited levelling-up White Paper would be vital to ensure an “equal playing field of outcomes” for every young person, no matter where they live. Photo credit: Social Mobility Pledge

"We will continue to work alongside and support our regional partners as we move to the next phase of education recovery to ensure that pupils in Yorkshire get the best possible educational outcomes and reach their potential."

A special Yorkshire Post report includes:

- Parents, headteachers, university students and leaders open up about the challenges to education over the past 18 months.

- Anne Longfield, the former Children's Commissioner for England, has called for a 10-year education plan, including the creation of a northern learning team, to be instigated to help combat a a “triple whammy” of disadvantage for thousands of children across the region and give pupils the “rightful” support to ensure they fulfil their full potential.

- Justine Greening - a former Education Secretary and the architect of the opportunity areas programme during her time in government - has made an impassioned plea to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ensure more powers are given to local communities to create more opportunities for young people.

- Labour Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green said due to a number of Department of Education “fiascos” over the past 18 months including the exams chaos of last summer when an algorithm “cheated children of results”, a government u-turn on free school meals and “last minute”planning, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is “not fit” to remain in post.

- The Government should prioritise digital devices and the internet amid concerns that the region will see an “huge” skills gap for the future, a Yorkshire business leader has claimed.

- While university leaders across the region have disclosed plans at Yorkshire’s universities in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic to help support students amid major frustrations over the impact of the Covid-19 on studies.

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