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IPPR North: ‘Secondary school set back’ could cost the northern economy £29bn in lost productivity

School funding should be redistributed to northern schools in attempt to raise standards, says IPPR North

Northern schools must be funded more fairly, in order to help tackle a growing divide in academic standards between schools in the north of England and those in London, according to a leading thinktank, IPPR North. The report is being published with Teach First, a leading national charity, in celebration of its tenth-year anniversary of working in the North West.

New analysis by IPPR North reveals that northern secondary schools are, on average, funded £1,300 less per pupil compared to those in London. Meanwhile northern primary schools are funded £900 less than their counterparts in the capital.

IPPR North says the government should address this gap in its forthcoming review of the schools national funding formula, introducing a larger‘Powerhouse premium’ for schools that work in disadvantaged areas of the country, and in areas where it is difficult to attract and retain teachers, could help to raise standards.

Addressing school standards must be at the heart of efforts to build a ‘northern powerhouse’, the report argues. It identifies a number of burgeoning economic strengths in the north, but argues that these will be put at risk if the north does not improve education and skills in order to boost productivity.

IPPR North says that productivity is the crucial measure of economic success, and if the North matched the rate of labour productivity in the rest of the UK outside of London, its economy would be £29 billion (9.5 percent) bigger than it is today.

A number of leading commentators, including Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, have raised concerns about school results in the north of England. But new analysis by IPPR North challenges some common myths and reveals the true picture about northern schools:

  • Educational inequalities start before children reach school age: The ‘early years gap’ between children from poorer and wealthier homes is almost twice as large in the North as it is in London. (This is driven by disadvantaged children performing worse - and more affluent children performing better - in the north of England than in the rest of the country).
  • Contrary to popular opinion, northern primary schools perform in line with the England average, with 80 percent of pupils in the north achieving a good standard in key subjects, and many excel. For instance, Redcar and Cleveland’s primary schools are among the best in the country and would be the envy of most London boroughs.
  • Secondary schools in the north are a big cause of concern. Across the North as a whole, 55.5 per cent of pupils attain five good GCSEs including English and maths, compared to 57.3 per cent across England as a whole, and 60.9 per cent in London.
  • It is also at secondary level that the gap associated with disadvantage becomes particularly stark. In the north of England, 34.0 per cent of disadvantaged pupils achieve five good GCSEs, compared to a national average of 36.8 per cent and 48.3 per cent in London.
  • Educational inequality is not just a problem for satellite and coastal towns: Commentators have raised concerns about the performance of schools in places like Blackpool and Oldham – but some major cities also struggle to raise attainment. In Liverpool, Sheffield and Leeds, less than a third of disadvantaged pupils achieve five good GCSEs including English and maths.
  • Even schools which are performing well still exhibit attainment gaps between wealthier and poorer pupils. In northern schools that are rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted there is a gap of 22 percentage points between pupils on free school meals and their better-off peers.

The report finds that many Northern schools have a harder job than those in other parts of the country, and should be compensated for this. Once school intake has been controlled for, schools in the North appear to add more value to their pupils than those in many other regions of the country.

This should not be used to make an ‘excuse’ for low attainment. Rather, it shows that schools in the north of England may actually have a harder job than those in other parts of the country, due to their more challenging intake, and need to be adequately compensated for this.

Jonathan Clifton, Associate Director for Public Services at IPPR, and one of the report’s authors said: “Two decades ago London was the worst place to attend school if you were from a low income background, now London’s disadvantaged pupils achieve better outcomes than those in other parts of the country.

“The successful turnaround of London’s schools shows that educational disadvantage can be tackled though investment, strong leadership and collaboration. We need a similar level ambition for schools in the North. Smart policy and fair funding from government could transform children’s prospects and help build the northern powerhouse”

Ed Cox, Director of IPPR North, said: “Getting a great start through great education is essential in training the engineers, scientists and doctors that will power the northern powerhouse.

“But while our analysis debunks the crude myth that all schools in the North are poor, there is however a real split with London when it comes to schools funding.

“There should be no excuses for low-expectations of pupils’ potential. But nor should there be excuses on why schools in the North continually lose out because the funding system is skewed by the capital’s living costs. Fair funding is essential and a Powerhouse premium could achieve that aim.”


Ash Singleton, external affairs manager, IPPR North - a.singleton@ippr.orgor 0161 457 0536 / 07887 422 789

Notes to editors:

The report is available here:

  1. The report is being published with Teach First, a leading national charity which places high-calibre graduates in challenging schools. Teach First is currently celebrating its tenth-year anniversary of working in the north.
  2. Schools in the capital benefit from “London weighting” to help staff with high living costs. The report argues the government could also introduce a ‘Powerhouse premium’ to the funding formula to compensate schools which work in areas of the country which have difficulties recruiting and attracting staff – many of which are in the north of England.
  3. In a recent speech to IPPR, Ofsted Chief Sir Michael Wilshaw argued that there is a ‘north-south divide’ when it comes to school attainment. For a full text of his speech see: The report debunks this argument to show that performance across the North is much more variable.
  4. The report reveals that on average, northern primary schools receive £4,600 per pupil, which is £900 less than in London; northern secondary schools receive £5,700 per pupil, which is £1,300 less than in London. This is calculated using Department for Education data to compare school spending levels across the regions. We have calculated the average spend per pupil in each ONS region, rather than at individual school level.
  5. IPPR North’s Ed Cox and Jonathan Clifton are available for interview.
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