GCSE results reveal widening North-South education divide

Katharine Birbalsingh, the government’s social mobility officer, suggested the difference in performance between schools could be due to undedicated teachers.

Asked on Radio 4 about the disparities between schools and regions, she said: “I have a lot of very dedicated teachers. And not all school leaders can say that all of their staff are dedicated – I certainly can.

Ms Birbalsingh, who is head of the highly successful Michaela Community School in London and chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said: ‘There is also some truth in the fact that you want to fill your school with teachers who are going to go the extra mile, it would be foolish to suggest that every teacher in the country always goes the extra mile.

“It’s also the ideas, the way we teach. We have a very strong discipline. Unfortunately, some teachers don’t like strict discipline, they think it’s mean to expect them to sit up straight or finish their homework.

More missing children in the North

Meanwhile, data released last year showed schools in the South were much more likely to have enrolled their students in the government’s Covid catch-up tutoring scheme than schools in the North.

Robert Halfon, Tory MP and chair of the education select committee, said the results were ‘not surprising’.

“When you close schools for most pupils over the past two years of lockdown, when disadvantaged children are denied the opportunity to learn, what do you expect?

“There has been much less uptake in the catch-up program in the North. We know that absent children are concentrated in the North.

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership, a membership body for businesses in the north of England which is chaired by George Osborne, the former chancellor, said a ‘triple whammy of factors’ will have impacted enlargement of the performance gap.

They included ‘existing long-term disadvantage’, ‘loss of learning during Covid’ and ‘department of education catch-up failures’, which he says affect the north of England disproportionately.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “It is concerning to see regional discrepancies in today’s GCSE results. He added that they are “not a new phenomenon”.

“These achievement gaps are a major challenge in our education system and need to be addressed urgently. The reasons for these inequalities are complex and require appropriate effort and investment across the UK, with a focus on local collaboration in key social mobility ‘cold spots’. Closing the regional achievement gap is key to truly bringing the country up to speed. All children should have the same chance to succeed.

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