Northern schools have a ‘harder job’ but still face £1,300 funding gap

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Funding disparities: Sheffield town hall. Schools in the city are among those that would benefit from a proposed ‘Powerhouse Premium’ (Image: iStock)
'Northern secondaries get £5,700 on average – £1,300 less than in London.' Even though we are a ...

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Think-tank report debunks the myth that Northern schools perform poorly and proposes a ‘Powerhouse Premium’ to end funding disparities of as much as £1,300 per-pupil. Pete Henshaw reports

Schools in the North of England have “a harder job” because of their more challenging intakes, with the North East and North West actually being among the highest performing regions when this is taken into account.

The conclusion is among those in a think-tank report that says addressing educational disadvantage and thus improving skills must be at the heart of the government’s ambitions to create a “Northern Powerhouse”.

The report’s authors say that their study “debunks the crude myth that all schools in the North are poor”. However, they warn that huge per-pupil funding disparities between schools in the North of England and those in the South are a key barrier and call for the introduction of a “Powerhouse Premium”.

The report has been produced by the think-tank IPPR North (Institute for Public Policy Research) and was funded by Teach First.

It says that pupils’ circumstances should not be used as an “excuse” for poor attainment, but that ministers should acknowledge the “harder job” facing Northern schools. It argues that Northern schools “need to be adequately compensated for this”.

The challenges are severe and begin early on, with the early years gap between pre-school children from poorer and wealthier homes being almost twice as large in the North as it is in London, the report finds. It means schools in the North face an arguably bigger challenge than those elsewhere.

The report states: “When context is taken into account, Northern schools appear to perform better. Once school intake has been controlled for, the North East and North West come out as two of the highest performing regions in the country (alongside London).”

It adds: “This should not be used as an excuse for low standards, high aspirations must be set for all pupils. But it does explain that schools in the North might have a harder job as a result of their intake and suggests that they need to be compensated for this.”

However, the report also emphasises that it is at secondary level where “educational inequalities widen sharply”. The North, in fact, performs “reasonably well” when it comes to primary school attainment.

Across the North, 55.5 per cent of pupils attain five GCSEs at grades A* to C. This compares to 57.3 per cent nationally and 60.9 per cent in London.

Meanwhile, outcomes for disadvantaged pupils (those on free school meals) in the North are currently at 34 per cent compared to a national average of 36.8 per cent and 48.3 per cent in London. Fewer than three per cent of secondary schools in the North have managed to eradicate their attainment gap.

The report continues: “Secondary school attainment in the North of England lags behind that in London. This is also the stage where educational inequalities widen sharply. School improvement policies and activities in the North should be focused towards the secondary stage.”

Funding is one of the key issues, the report states, with schools in the North receiving much less money per-pupil. Northern primaries receive an average of £4,600 per-pupil – £900 less than in London. Northern secondaries get £5,700 on average – £1,300 less than in London.

Recruitment and retention is also more difficult in the North, with more “cold spots” – areas that do not have close links to a Teaching School.

The government is currently committed to introducing a new fairer funding formula for England’s schools to eradicate historical factors that lead to similar areas receiving hugely different amounts of per-pupil funding.

The authors suggest that this on-going review of the national funding might be used to “actively weight funding more heavily towards areas of the country which have high levels of disadvantage and which find it difficult to recruit teachers”.

As such, IPPR North is recommending that a “Powerhouse Premium” to be introduced “for schools that work in disadvantaged areas of the country and in areas where it is difficult to attract and retain teachers”.

The report adds: “(The government) should also find ways to target teaching and leadership support to these cold spots – for example, by establishing professional development programmes or introducing student loan write-offs for those working in challenging contexts, and embedding programmes such as the National Teaching Service and Teach First.”

Other recommendations for ministers include a warning not to just focus on coastal and rural areas, with some major cities also struggling to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, notably Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool.

One of the report’s authors, Jonathan Clifton, associate director for public services at IPPR, said: “The successful turnaround of London’s schools shows that educational disadvantage can be tackled through investment, strong leadership and collaboration.

“We need a similar level of ambition for schools in the North. Smart policy and fair funding from government could transform children’s prospects and help build the Northern Powerhouse.”

Ed Cox, director of IPPR North, added: “While our analysis debunks the crude myth that all schools in the North are poor, there is however a real split with London when it comes to school funding.”

He continued: “There should be no excuses for low-expectations of pupils’ potential, but nor should there be excuses on why schools in the North continually lose out because the funding system is skewed. Fair funding is essential and a Powerhouse Premium could achieve that aim.”

The report – Northern Schools: Putting education at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse – can be downloaded via

'Northern secondaries get £5,700 on average – £1,300 less than in London.'
Even though we are a southern school, we get over £1000 per pupil less than the average Northern Secondary quoted here. Being in the lowest funded shire county we also need reform to funding models

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