Call for action to help our children succeed

Jo Cox MP.
Jo Cox MP.

MPs have called on the government to take urgent action to ensure young people growing up in the region are as likely to succeed in school as those in London.

A parliamentary debate on education standards in Yorkshire saw calls to close a geographical divide in results which sees the region lag behind the rest of England.

Opening the debate, Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spen, said that while attainment in the capital had surged “with the targeted support and investment” of the London Challenge project, Yorkshire is now the worst performing area in the country.

She said this disparity was a disgrace, adding: “It is now clear that where you are born has become a more powerful predictive factor of your performance at school than any other... Tragically for our children, the region has gone from the fifth lowest achieving in the 1970s to the worst in England today, with nearly a quarter of pupils attending schools that are rated less than good.”

She said this was despite the tireless effort and dedication of teachers, parents and pupils.

MPs called for the success of the London Challenge – which received government investment and is credited with transforming standards in the capital – to be replicated in the North.

Mrs Cox said: “What has worked in London can work elsewhere. It can work in Yorkshire. But it will need real investment and sustained political commitment. It is time for a new, bold and ambitious target to end the postcode lottery in educational attainment. We have a duty to make sure every child has access to the best possible education. It should not matter where you are born.”

The cross party debate was led by Mrs Cox, Greg Mulholland, the Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West and Martin Vickers, the Conservative MP for Cleethorpes.

In the Budget the government announced a new Northern Powerhouse schools strategy backed by £20m a year. Chancellor George Osborne said Sir Nick Weller, the chief executive of the Bradford-based Dixons Academies, would report on how schools in the North of England could be turned around in the same way that has happened with London’s education system.

Barnsley’s Labour MP, Dan Jarvis, said he was disappointed by the lack of detail that has been forthcoming from the government about this plan. He noted that the strategy was not mentioned at all in the government’s new education White Paper.

MPs from all sides of the debate praised the work of teachers in the region.

Mr Vickers said he did not want to paint a bad picture but added that a report from the Social Market Foundation, showed marked disparities between regions, “with over 70 per cent of pupils in London achieving five good GCSEs compared to 63 per cent in Yorkshire”.

Mrs Cox said that there had been 30 years of neglect by government, which Mr Vickers suggested divided the blame equally between the political parties. Schools Minister Nick Gibb said that since 2010 there were 209 more good and outstanding schools in Yorkshire.