Education demonstrates grim picture of the North South divide

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Fewer skilled jobs outside London, less investment and much less opportunity – Sheffield MP Paul Blomfield paints a grim picture of the widening North-South divide.

And nowhere is the big divide clearer than in education, according to Labour’s Sheffield Central MP.

He raised the issue in Parliament and called for urgent action to end the ‘postcode lottery’ which means Sheffield and South Yorkshire children do worse in school than those in London.

And despite bold claims about the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ deal, Mr Blomfield believes the Government is ‘moving in the opposite direction’.

Rather than prioritising under-performing Northern areas, the MP has accused the Government of ‘starving’ deprived council’s of funds – and pumping the cash into wealthy and successful areas.

Mr Blomfield raised the issue in the Commons as he highlighted the report which found Yorkshire and The Humber was the worst performing region for getting five good GCSE results.

Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield

Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield

He said: “The fact remains that there are far fewer skilled jobs outside London, far less investment, both public and private sector, and therefore much less opportunity.

“Yet rather than using the levers of public sector employment and investment pots to change this, the Government are moving in the opposite direction.

“They are starving local authorities in deprived areas of the money they need, in sharp contrast with wealthier areas.”

Mr Blomfield also criticised the Government’s plans to force every school in England to become and academy.

Rotherham MP Sarah Champion

Rotherham MP Sarah Champion

Speaking in Parliament, he said there is ‘no evidence forced academisation will improve standards, and there is quite a lot of evidence to show the reverse’.

Mr Blomfield said Government plans to turn all schools into academies run by trusts outside of local authority control ‘will only make things worse’.

“My constituents have also raised serious concerns about teaching standards and conditions in a system that permits or even rewards the use of unqualified teachers; about the undermining of national pay structures; about local accountability, given the Government’s thrust towards multi-academy trusts to drive change; and about teacher morale, with further reorganisation to be forced on them,” he said.

“There is no evidence that forced academisation will improve standards, and there is quite a lot of evidence to show the reverse. What it will be is a distraction, with time and resources taken away from the central task of improving the quality of our schools.”

Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis

Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis

The plans have also been attacked by other South Yorkshire Labour MPs, including Rotherham’s Sarah Champion and Barnsley’s Dan Jarvis.

Ms Champion said ‘there is no evidence whatever’ that forcing all schools to become academies will improve standards.

She added: “Indeed, the chief inspector of schools has made it abundantly clear that becoming an academy will not automatically lead to improvement, arguing that without strong teaching and leadership, standards will inevitably drop, whatever type of institution the nameplate on the door proclaims the school to be.”

Mr Jarvis said forced academisation is a ‘divisive policy for which there is absolutely no evidence that it will improve standards’.

But schools minister Nick Gibb said the ongoing move to an academy system is already paying dividends for educational standards.

He said: “We have continued and expanded the matching of failing schools with strong sponsors. We have increased the number of national leaders of education from around 250 in 2010 to more than 1,000 in 2015, and we have encouraged school partnerships.​

Schools Minister Nick Gibb

Schools Minister Nick Gibb

“A third of schools are now engaged in a teaching school alliance, and we have set out an expectation that most schools will form or join multi-academy trusts, given the benefits that they offer.

“In Yorkshire and the Humber, there are currently 186 national leaders of education and 58 teaching school alliances, and there is a higher level of participation by schools in such alliances in the region than there is nationally.

“High-quality sponsors can have a tremendous impact on underperforming schools.”

Yorkshire education debate falling on deaf ears?

When Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield delivered his speech to Parliament, it looked as though it fell on deaf ears.

With fewer than 20 MPs present, the Commons looked sparse to say the least.

Onlookers may have been concerned that Yorkshire education was not being taken seriously by other MPs.

But a spokesman for Mr Blomfield has confirmed that this is not the case.

He said that as his speech concerned Yorkshire and the Humber, MPs with no connection to the area had no requirement to be present.

Also, as the speech was given at 9pm, many MPs would be tied-up on other matters.

The spokesman confirmed that any address to Parliament is taken on record, sent through the necessary channels and acted upon – regardless of how many MPs were present.