Last week I attended a meeting to discuss the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. It’s a phrase that George Osborne is fond of and frequently uses whilst posing for photo ops wearing a hard hat and hi-vis jacket. The concern I raised is that the rhetoric does not match the reality.
Infrastructure investment is still heavily skewed in favour of London and the South East and, as it transpires, the Chancellor’s promise of devolution of power to the North is simply a devolution of cuts to our local authorities.
Sadly, the same can also be said of the Government’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ schools strategy announced in the Budget. It is undoubtedly clear that action needs to be taken to address educational attainment standards in our region. The shocking disadvantage faced by children in Yorkshire & the Humber was highlighted in Parliament recently by my colleague Jo Cox MP.
In January, a study by the Social Market Foundation revealed that the most important factor in predicting a students’ educational attainment is where they live. Yorkshire has been ranked lowest in England for academic attainment and the latest figures show that 70 per cent of pupils in London achieve five good GCSEs compared to 63 per cent in Yorkshire and Humber.
Education is the bedrock on which our region’s future success will be built and ambitions of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ are without foundation if pupils don’t leave school with decent qualifications. Yet a meagre £20m a year has been set aside for the Government’s schools project for the whole of the North of England, and the strategy was not even mentioned at all in the Government’s latest education policy proposals.
Despite the dedication and commitment of our teachers, they face an uphill struggle against education policies obsessed with bringing free market forces into schools. We have a crisis in teacher recruitment that is affecting schools across the country. The pressure of budget cuts, crowded classrooms and massive upheaval to curriculums, assessments and exams are seeing many teachers leaving the profession because they feel demoralised.
This week, we have seen Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, facing mounting pressure from across the political spectrum about the government’s plan to force all schools to become academies, meaning they would be run without the oversight of local authorities.
I strongly believe that forcing schools to become academies against their wishes is taking education backwards. Local parents tell me that they want good schools with good standards and enough places for their children to attend, not the unnecessary and unfounded reorganisation of our school system that will do nothing to address these things.
When will the government listen to the professionals instead of driving through this ideological, top-down, costly reorganisation of our school system?
As your local MP I voted against these proposals because it was the right thing to do, and I will continue to fight to ensure that children in our region have equality of opportunity to achieve the best possible futures.