George Osborne: north-south divide in schools needs urgent attention

George Osborne: north-south divide in schools needs urgent attention

CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Guardian

Ministers need to pay “urgent attention” to the growing north-south divide in England’s schools, George Osborne has said, as he warned of an alarming brain drain of graduates from the north.

The Guardian reports that in the first report by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which he chairs, the former chancellor said the region was at a crucial “turning point” and could fall further behind without appropriate action by ministers.

“We can either make use of the momentum behind the ‘northern powerhouse’ to really close the north-south gap, or we can let the moment pass and leave our country divided, and the north left behind,” he said.

“Get it right and the northern economy will be £100bn bigger, with more jobs and higher living standards for all.”

The government-backed NPP, which was launched by Osborne after he was sacked by Theresa May when she became prime minister last July, took evidence from more than 200 business and civic leaders ahead of the report published on Friday.

Speaking before the publication of the report in Leeds, Osborne said urgent attention should be given to a range of issues, including the north’s schools, the quality of adult skills, east-west transport infrastructure and high-speed internet provision.

The Conservative MP for Tatton in Cheshire said council leaders should be more ambitious in their decision making and called for more to be done to attract business investment into the north of England.

“Many issues have been raised with us, from transport connections to devolution, but one challenge stood out: education,” Osborne said.

“Our education system, right the way from the start of school to higher education, must provide the next generation with the skills, inspiration and training to fulfil their goals and build our economy.

“There is now overwhelming evidence that attainment at 16 is too low in the north, leaving us lagging behind UK and international competitors. We also let go of far too many talented graduates.

“I will be asking a group of leading employers and education leaders to work together with the partnership, to draw on the latest evidence and thinking to examine a number of key issues to put this right.”

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The report found that 30,000 graduates a year were leaving the north of England after completing their studies. The region must strive to be a net importer of graduates, Osborne said, particularly in science and technology.

Osborne said schools in the north should aim to raise attainment at 16 in English and maths to be at least the national average, and that he wanted the north to be regarded as a leading European region in digital skills at 16.

The warning over a north-south education divide echoes a report by the then head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw, who said last December there were 135,000 more secondary school children being taught in under-performing schools in the north of England than in the south.

Osborne’s report comes a day after business leaders warned that May’s attempt to rebalance the UK economy risked being derailed without a transport revolution to modernise links to major airports and ports in the north.

The report was backed by the former Treasury minister Jim O’Neill, who resigned last September after falling out with May’s government over issues including the “northern powerhouse”, the return of grammar schools and the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant.

Lord O’Neill, an NPP board member, said: “It is critical that key transport infrastructure is in place to allow people that live in the northern powerhouse to work together as one and not in isolation, and to connect with global markets. But transport infrastructure alone is not sufficient.

“We also need more ambitious decision making locally, and better high-speed broadband. Something that also shines through in this report is that the education system in the north is not currently performing to its potential; in fact, it is currently falling behind the south. We need an education system that promotes and retains talent, and we need to gain graduates, not lose them.”

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