The cultural attitude towards education in the North has to change if the educational divide with the rest of the country is to be bridged, it was claimed today.
Former Labour MP Jamie Reed, who is now Head of Development & Community Relations at Sellafield Ltd, the nuclear fuel reprocessing and decommissioning site in Cumbria, told a fringe event at Conservative Party Conference that a lack of funding for schools in the North was only part of the reason for its poor levels of educational attainment.
Around a third of schools in the North are rated as requiring improvement or inadequate compared with just 14 per cent in London, while northern pupils also under-perform compared with the national average.
Responding to a question about the gap in funding between schools in the North and those in the South, Mr Reed said: "There's got to be parity, it's got to be level, there's no two ways around that. But I think that if we just focus on the money, I think we're going to miss a big trick here.
"Let's not be afraid to go where people have been afraid to go in the past. Is there something more under-pinning our disparity in attainment with the South.
"Is there something more to that than simply funding? I think the answer is yes. I think there is something cultural in the North. I once read that most educational attainment is achieved in the home, so 60 to 70 per cent of educational attainment is in the home, not the time spent at school.
"When I go to schools in my patch and all over the place speaking about educational attainment and speak to parents, I say 'you can have these new school buildings, we can do this, that and the other, but this is really down to you'.
"The culture of learning and the value attributed to learning and education starts in the home. If it's not in the home, how does a government of any colour crack that?
"It's tough, it's not easy. But that's the single most important thing we can do, change that cultural approach and that cultural attitude towards education in the North.
"That's probably the quickest route to achieving parity with the rest of the country."
Fiona Spellman, the Leeds-based CEO of SHINE: Support and Help IN Education, a charity which helps disadvantaged children, said: "We have to pay attention to the enormous contribution, impact, that children's experiences outside school have on their education.
"So extra-curricular interests, the home-learning environment, programmes engaging employees in schools, all these things make a huge difference to how children attain at school.
"It's not just about what happens between nine and three, Monday to Friday during term time.
"One of my favourite phrases is that it takes a village to raise a child. We all have a stake in our children's futures and we all have a contribution to make to ensure we level that playing field for them."
Mrs Spellman added that research showed that a child in a low-income family will hear 35 million fewer words than a child from a high income family by the time they start primary school.
And she said 86 per of children with parents who don't have any qualifications will go on to not get any themselves.
"I think we need to get much better at identifying these children and providing earlier, proactive support for these families, to make sure that when they start school at the age of five, they're doing so with a fighting chance."