Declining schools undermine Northern Powerhouse plans, Wilshaw warns

23 Feb 16

Poor secondary school performance is setting the Northern Powerhouse up to “splutter and die”, Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw warned in a speech today.

Addressing the IPPR, the chief inspector of schools said that the declining standard of school performance and pupil attainment in Manchester and Liverpool means youngsters will grow up unable to sustain the government’s ambitions for the Northern Powerhouse, threatening the plan’s long-term feasibility.

The two North Western cities are at the core of ambitions for the Northern Powerhouse, and Wilshaw described them as “engines that could transform the prospects of the entire region”.

“But as far as secondary education is concerned they are not firing on all cylinders. In fact they seem to be going in reverse,” he continued. 

Three in ten secondary schools in Manchester and four in ten in Liverpool are judged by Ofsted to be inadequate or to require improvement.

The proportion of pupils gaining 5 GCSEs between grades A* to C, including in English and maths, has declined from 51% two years ago to 47% today in Manchester. In Liverpool, the percentage fell from 50% to 48% over the same period.

In a report published last December, Wilshaw dubbed England “a nation divided at age 11”, referring to the discrepancy between the performance of schools in the North and Midlands compared to those in the South.

Today he called on local politicians and high-profile figures to champion education, shoulder responsibility for their local schools and ensure education is a central target within strategies for growth.

“Unless they do, I fear Manchester and Liverpool will never become the economic powerhouses we want them to be,” he warned. “We cannot fight for social mobility with political immobility. Politicians need to act.”

Chris Russell, Ofsted’s director for the North West region, echoed Wilshaw’s concerns in an open letter also sent today to those responsible for overseeing education provision across Greater Manchester.

Russell said the legacy of £50m worth of investment in education in the region has not improved outcomes for children and young people, leaving instead a “disappointing” picture of decline rather than improvement.

“This level of performance presents not only a worrying picture for the employment prospects of young people in one of the UK’s major cities, it also presents a real risk to the economic and social stability of the area as a whole,” he wrote.

Russell has also sent a similar open letter to those responsible for education provision in Knowsley in Merseyside, where there is not a single good or outstanding secondary school and almost two thirds of leavers failed to achieve five or more GCSE grades A* to C last year.

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