MPs today demanded an end to the education ‘postcode lottery’ which means children in Sheffield and South Yorkshire do worse in school than those who live in London.
Immediate action is being called for after a report found more than 70 per cent of pupils in London achieve five good GCSEs compared with 63 per cent in Yorkshire and the Humber – the worst-performing region in England for educational attainment in 2013/14.
Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield said funding should be directed to schools serving deprived communities, while admissions criteria for school places should be changed to help disadvantaged children attend the best local schools.
He said: “People with more money are buying advantage by purchasing houses nearer the best schools, meaning that the gap, even within Yorkshire, is widening.
“We must act because it is simply not acceptable that, by virtue of growing up in Sheffield and not London, a child is less likely to do well at school.”
Fears were also raised about the impact of North-South divide in educational standards affecting children in Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley during a Parliamentary debate.
It comes as Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg continues work on a new cross-party commission examining inequality in education, with its findings due to be published next year.
Mr Clegg told The Star today more needs to be done to attract and retain good teachers in Sheffield schools.
He said: “Although it is a sad truth that there are less opportunities in the Yorkshire and Humber for school leavers and older pupils to gain high quality work experience, the inequalities in attainment between pupils in the North and South are evident way before pupils are at the stage where they are looking for employment.
“Early findings from the Social Market Foundation Commission on Inequality in Education show that problems in hiring and then keeping hold of good teachers are a big part of what drives the differences in attainment across schools.
“We hope that through the commission we can work with teachers and experts to find practical solutions to get more good teachers into these schools and keep them there.”
Mr Blomfield said a Sheffield headteacher had told him that economic differences between the city and London have an impact on children’s aspirations, with the number of children at the teacher’s school with parents in professional occupations estimated ‘to be in single figures’.
The unnamed headteacher said: “The children in London are deprived but it is a different sort of deprivation. They are financially deprived but are surrounded by wealth and opportunities whereas in the North, entire communities have never really recovered from deindustrialisation.”
Mr Blomfield 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; failing to come up with a coherent industrial strategy focused on the regions; and presiding over private sector jobs growth in London and the south-east at the expense of the regions.”
Rotherham MP Sarah Champion said: “Sadly, it is becoming more and more clear that a child’s prospects depend on not only their ability but their economic circumstances and their postcode.”
Don Valley MP Caroline Flint said: “In decades gone by, when manual jobs were plentiful, a 16-year-old could go straight from school to work without any or with only a few qualifications – it may have been to a low-paid job, but it was probably a job for life. That world no longer exists.
“There were better paid volume jobs in one industry that dominated the town economically and socially. We need the Government to understand post-industrial towns in Yorkshire and the north of England such as Doncaster – towns that globalisation seems to have passed by.”
Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis added: “If we are to close the attainment gap, we will need brilliant headteachers leading teams of excellent, highly motivated teachers. If we look at the recent schools White Paper, however, we see that the Government show a dearth of ambition in that area.”
Schools minister Nick Gibb said the Government is ‘sincerely and absolutely committed’ to closing the education gap.
He said Sir Nick Weller, the chief executive of the Dixons Academies trust, is to lead a report for the Government on how it can go ‘further and faster’ to improve school performance in the North and work with local headteachers to ‘help them to secure sufficient high-quality teachers and system leaders, sponsors and governors’.