Report highlights educational inequalities facing children in the North of England

Northern schools are losing out on hundreds of pounds of funding per pupil compared to those in London
Northern schools are losing out on hundreds of pounds of funding per pupil compared to those in London

Lancaster University researchers have contributed to a major report which highlights how a failure to address childhood inequality is creating a “conveyor belt of disadvantage.”

Northern schools are losing out on hundreds of pounds of funding per pupil compared to those in London, according to report entitled “The Child of the North: Addressing Education and Health Inequity”.

It was written by the Child of the North group – a partnership between Health Equity North and N8 Research Partnership – on behalf of the Child of the North All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG).

Over the last 10 years, ongoing inequalities in funding have meant schools in the North of England have received less money from the National Funding Formula (NFF) on average than their southern counterparts, with on average pupils in London receiving 9.7% more funding than those in the North.

Schools in London received an average of £6,610 per pupil compared to £6,225, £5,956, and £5,938 in the Northeast, Northwest, and Yorkshire and The Humber, respectively.

The report also highlights that children born into the poorest fifth of families in the UK are almost 13 times more likely to experience poor health and educational outcomes by the age of 17.

Dr Amy Atkinson from the Department of Psychology at Lancaster University contributed towards the report.

Dr Atkinson said: “The report highlights the shocking inequalities that children in the North of England are currently facing. Unless urgent action is taken, these inequalities will have a lasting impact on children’s lives, as well as impacting the wider society and economy. The report highlights a number of evidence-based recommendations to tackle these inequalities, many of which are based on research conducted at universities and other organisations in Northern England.”

The report includes research she conducted in collaboration with researchers at the University of Leeds and Bradford. This demonstrated that the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (a statutory assessment conducted at 4-5 years of age in England) can identify children at increased risk of needing special educational needs support in the future. Based on these findings, researchers at the Centre for Applied Education Research in Bradford have developed a new tool, the “Electronic Developmental Support Tool” (EDST). This tool, which is closely based on the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile, enables children to be assessed at multiple times across primary school. It is hoped that this will identify children who need additional classroom support. The EDST is currently being piloted in Bradford.

Lancaster University’s Professor Uta Papen from the Literacy Research Centre/Department of Linguistics and English Language was on the editorial board for the report.

Professor Papen said: “With the establishment of an All Party Parliamentary Group devoted to Children in the North, I am keen to continue to work with colleagues from the N8 to develop insights that address the longstanding disadvantages experienced by children in the North, and specifically to highlight and lobby for local, community-driven and collaborative initiatives, supporting children’s education, health, well-being and their futures. The Morecambe Bay Curriculum, initiated by Lancaster University and Lancaster and Morecambe College is one such initiative.”

The report has prompted rallying calls for immediate action to address the imbalance from northern MPs and academics, who have set out a suite of recommendations to help level the funding playing field.

The Child of the North APPG members and report authors are calling for an overhaul of the current school funding formula, so it takes into consideration attainment inequalities and the health burden borne by schools, to prevent these disparities continuing to increase.

The report also illustrates how public services in the North of England have come together to create innovative approaches that bring health and education together to deal with the poor outcomes faced by children and young people.

The report highlights groundbreaking projects in the North that showcase the power of working collaboratively and resource sharing to achieve transformational changes on pupils’ educational achievement and lives.

This includes a first-of-its-kind connected database in Bradford that contains the primary and secondary care health records of citizens linked with education records, social care, and policing data. The tool allows scientists, working with policymakers, to undertake holistic data science that can shine a light onto critical social issues that span disparate services. This provides a proven methodology that can be scaled up across the North of England to inform a national approach.

In addition, there are also insights from young people and school leaders who give a first-hand perspective on how the issues highlighted in the report affect them.

Kim Johnson MP for Liverpool Riverside, and Vice-Chair of the Child of the North APPG, said: “The findings of this report, which highlights the stark reality of the deepening trend of inequality between children born in the North and their southern counterparts are shocking, but unfortunately unsurprising. As we have seen highlighted in recent GCSE results, there is a clear and widening education attainment gap between the regions.

“Over the past 13 years, funding in key public services in the North have been falling behind the rest of the country, driving up poverty and creating large disparities in educational attainment and access to mental and physical health services. This is depleting opportunities for children living in the region, even more so for Black children and those with Special Educational Needs who are being disproportionately impacted by structural inequalities.

“Your birthplace should never be a barrier to accessing opportunity, but at the moment for children across the North, as this report identifies, all too often where you come from defines how far you will go.”

Anne Longfield, CBE, Chair of the Commission on Young Lives, who wrote the report Foreword, said: “The link between health inequalities and educational attainment is undeniable. This report provides evidence-based recommendations offering political parties a route map for action. The costs of inaction during childhood are far too high for individuals, families, and society. The time to reverse the tide of growing inequality is upon us.”

The report suggests practical steps that should be taken both at a local level and makes clear recommendations on the actions that central Government should take to improve outcomes for children and young people growing up in the UK.

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