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Government should urgently address the lack of opportunity areas for schools in the North East


James Ramsbotham, chief executive, North East England Chamber of Commerce talks about the major education divide between North and South as published in Northern Echo column on 7 February.

The major education divide between North and South was the subject of a new Northern Powerhouse report published last week.

The report, which we contributed towards, sets out in graphic detail how our pupils’ results lack behind the rest of the country.On average they are one GCSE grade behind comparable pupils in the south.It also revealed one quarter of secondary schools in the north are judged by Ofsted to be inadequate or in need of improvement.

The findings also make a clear case for extra funding for our schools and places strong emphasis on early years education.If we get this right, every pupil should be able to start school from a level playing field.Another major element of the report says the Government should ‘urgently address the lack of ‘Opportunity Areas in the North East’. These areas are given extra investment and support for their schools as they have been identified as having low levels of social mobility.

Without getting too technical, due to our good primary school performances and relatively low house prices, we have social mobility index outcomes that prevent us demonstrating the real need for us to have this Opportunity Area designation. We agree with the report that this holds us back in being able to deliver our potential.

The report’s emphasis on careers education and work experience also echoes our own priorities set out in our Stronger North East campaign. We are working with Esh Group to deliver hundreds of hours of practical employability advice directly into schools, from our members.

Devolution has an important part to play in this education debate.We welcome the devolution of skills funding to the regional mayor, where specific priorities can be addressed, at a local level.We are now supporting the bid for the same freedom to be given to the North of Tyne devolution plans although we want to also see the whole NELEP area getting these powers.

What is needed is more accountability for schools and colleges to look at success at 25 years old so there is proper focus on employability skills and careers and a shift away from exam league tables that only tell half the story.

This pan-Northern collaboration and thought leadership is extremely beneficial and we must ensure our region plays a full part in it.