I am lucky enough that each working day, I get to drive throughout the whole of Teesside, Yorkshire, the Humber region and the East Midlands, beautiful places both to live and work.
In doing this, I often find myself driving down the A1 on my way to Doncaster or even further south – that’s right, Doncaster is south for me. I live in a village in North Yorkshire which is not far from the East Coast main train line where there is a sign saying Edinburgh 200 miles and London 200 miles. On my drive down to Doncaster and across to Scunthorpe, you cannot help but see the power stations that are Ferrybridge, Eggborough and Drax which, by the 1990s, delivered 20% of Britain’s electricity. Equally, throughout the region, it is not hard to see the coal mines, now closed, or the steel works, of which many are also closed, and even the (closed) textile mills that date back to the first industrial revolution.
"Success is simple – no gap between educational standards, no postcode lottery. Opportunity for all no matter where you live or under what circumstance you were born."
The North has powered the country, literally for two centuries. Therefore, it was very welcome when the coalition government of 2010-15 announced that they were creating a Northern Powerhouse: boosting our local economy by investing in skills, innovation, transport and culture, as well as devolving significant powers and budgets to directly elected mayors to ensure decisions in the North are made by the North. However, we cannot yet say that this has delivered parity in education standards for the North.
Those of us in education in the region know very well that we have a huge role to play. The North/South divide in educational standards has been written about many times in the last few years and much of the criticism about this has been hard to take for those of us trying our best every day, but nonetheless, it was/is accurate in too many cases. Performance in too many areas is below or way below the average. However, as I know very well from going into many special measures schools, there are beacons of best practice found in even the most difficult of situations. We have some simply brilliant schools and multi-academy trusts in the North delivering some of the best outcomes in the country. We also have two of the highest profile MAT collapses, WCAT and Bright Tribe. So what to do?
Collaboration is the key
The current system of Maintained Schools, Standalone Academy Trusts, Multi Academy Trusts, Teaching Schools and Maths, and now English Hubs, must come together to drive up standards and transform the life chances of our children. We cannot allow failure to take place and then take action. At best, children in those schools will face months, if not years, of unacceptable standards. We need to be proactive. That is why a number of Trusts decided to come together to support each other and the wider system by creating an Alliance: the Northern Alliance of Trusts. The aim is simple, to offer support to each other and to the wider system. It is not about growing our own Trusts. In order for the North to close the gap, there has to be strength in the depth of provision, whatever that provision is.
Just around the areas of the North that I mentioned at the start of this article, we have Opportunity Areas (OA): The North Yorkshire Coast OA, Doncaster OA, Bradford OA and now, as recently announced by the Secretary of State and to be chaired by the minister, Lord Agnew, Opportunity North East. These opportunities cannot be missed, not just for the sake of the children in the North but for the whole country. As we move into what is termed the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we must not allow the area that was so big a part of the first one, to fail.
I encourage all who work in education in the North to join the Confederation of School Trusts (CST) and through CST, to link up and come together to support each other and find the solutions that our children need. CST can provide the infrastructure to ensure that together we can learn from each other and support every child to fulfil their potential. Alliances can be built which will provide the system with support mechanisms to catch those who fall down and push upward those that need help. Success is simple – no gap between educational standards, no postcode lottery. Opportunity for all no matter where you live or under what circumstance you were born.