‘Stark’ North-South attainment gap before children turn 5, report warns

Poor children in the North are lagging behind their counterparts in London even before they turn 5 owing to a “stark early years gap”, new research reveals.

An analysis of government figures by the IPPR North thinktank finds that less than of half (47 per cent) of children born into the poorest families in the North achieve a “good” level in the early years foundation stage, as opposed to 59 per cent in the capital – a gap of 12 percentage points.

Even accounting for deprivation, early years attainment in the North is far worse and more unequal than elsewhere in the UK, the research claims.

The findings were published in the State of the North report, issued annually by IPPR North.

The news comes just days after TES revealed that ministers are trying to tempt more of the country’s biggest and most successful academy sponsors to expand North in a bid to raise standards (to read the full story, subscribe to TES).

Chancellor George Osborne is expected to announce soon which academy sponsors have been successful in bidding for a share of £10 million to take on struggling schools as part of his vision for a “Northern Powerhouse”.

The IPPR document looks at a number of factors that are hampering the creation of a strong northern economy, and highlights the fact that children are being held back even before they start school.

The report states: “Problems in early years can have a strong bearing on GCSE attainment – and so, unsurprisingly, the North underperforms in this area, too.

“In terms of the overall proportion of young people who attain five or more A*-C grades at GCSE, including in English and maths, the North was among the lowest-performing of the English regions in 2013-14 – 54.9 per cent of young people attained this standard, compared to 56.8 per cent across England and 61.5 per cent in London.”

Government figures show that overall GCSE attainment in the North has fallen further behind the national average since 2010-11.

IPPR North director Ed Cox said: “If the Northern Powerhouse is to drive national prosperity, these figures show the challenges it must overcome to become a reality. We will never become a powerhouse economy when our children and young people have such a poor start in life. It will take a generation of investment: not only in new railways and motorways, but in the ‘human capital’ of the North – in education and training, starting with the youngest.”

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