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Lower spending on education in northern England compared with London threatens to damage the UK economy and create a “time bomb” for public services, according to a new report.
The report by the Child of the North all-party parliamentary group said lower spending on schools and colleges had combined with insufficient financial support following the Covid pandemic to widen the attainment gap between the north and the UK capital.
MPs and other experts who worked on the study said education funding for the region had lagged behind the rest of the country over the past decade.
They added that north-south inequalities had accelerated through the cost of living crisis and the Covid pandemic.
“This is bad for the UK economy and creates a time bomb for the NHS, social care, and criminal justice system,” said the report.
Between 2017 and 2022, London schools received on average 9.7 per cent more funding than those in the north, it added.
For example, spending in the UK capital was £672 per pupil higher than in the Yorkshire and Humber region.
The report welcomed changes to the national funding formula for schools in England due to take effect in 2025 as a step towards addressing geographic imbalances, but said the overhaul did not go far enough.
The MPs and experts recommended that extra funding be allocated to northern schools from 2025.
The report found that Covid exerted a big effect on northern children, who spent an average of 41 more days under lockdown than those in the rest of England owing to the uneven way in which coronavirus spread.
The number of pupils missing school since then has hit record highs across the country, but absences are worse in the north than in London.
There has been a parallel “exacerbation in regional attainment gaps”, said the report, which includes research by the Northern Health Science Alliance, a partnership involving NHS trusts, universities and scientists.
Children in London achieve, on average, a third of a grade higher than those in the north, said the report.
GCSE results released in August showed a widening geographic divide, with pupils in the north-east recording the lowest share of top grades in England.
“These differences cannot be ascribed to worse teachers or school leadership as these patterns . . . impact schools that are praised for their teaching and leadership,” said James Lauder, assistant vice-principal at Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford.
The report said ministers could learn lessons from Bradford, which continued the government’s “opportunity area” policy after it was scrapped last year.
The approach, introduced in 2016 by then education secretary Justine Greening, aimed to co-ordinate fragmented local services in 12 deprived areas to improve outcomes.
It made a “transformational difference”, said the report, adding that in Bradford, 39 schools improved their grades with the education regulator Ofsted within three years.
The city became the first place to link children’s data across different services, allowing teachers and other frontline staff, such as those in the NHS, to identify issues that could otherwise have been missed.
For example, 2,500 children in need of glasses, but who had not seen an optician, have been identified.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the government’s reforms since 2010 had “made a lasting improvement to the quality of education received by young people in England”, with the proportion of schools rated good or outstanding by Ofsted increasing from 68 per cent to 88 per cent.
The spokesperson added that the department was implementing 55 “education investment areas” to drive school improvement and improve pupil outcomes, with about half of these located in the north.