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Look North: A generation of children await the powerhouse promise

The place we grow up influences every aspect of our lives. It informs our view of the world around us; it influences the relationships we have, and ultimately it impacts on our career choices and wider life choices too.

This report focuses on what this means for children who are growing up in the North. A part of the country that has seen extraordinary change over the last 50 years and one that now has a real opportunity to shape a new future through the regeneration and devolution schemes in place.

It is right to acknowledge that very many of the children we met as part of this project have a childhood full of opportunity and promise. These children are positive about where they live, are doing really well and have great prospects. This report is not seeking to reinforce old narratives of wholesale northern decline. Quite the contrary, throughout we highlight much of the innovative work we have encountered across the North, and emphasise the real impact this is having on children’s lives.

However, it is also important to understand that a disproportionate number of children in the North are growing up in communities of entrenched disadvantage which have not enjoyed the financial growth or government energy and spotlight that have so boosted opportunities in other areas of the country – London and the South East in particular.

As a result, too many disadvantaged children in the North are being left behind.

This report sets out starkly what this means:

  • Too many children starting school far behind where they should be. Often with special educational needs no one has picked up.
  • Children from disadvantaged backgrounds facing an education gap that starts before schools and widens throughout education
  • More than half of the secondary schools serving the North’s most deprived communities are judged to be less than good.
  • Large numbers of children dropping out of education before they reach 18.
  • Lack of confidence amongst children that economic regeneration will mean more jobs or opportunities.

These findings bolster concerns over northern school performance raised by Ofsted and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership. The Department for Education’s own Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy found that too many secondary schools in the North were plagued by poor leadership and governance. With government backing, schools in London have transformed over the last 15 years. The focus now needs to be put on the North. Throughout this project we have encountered enough examples of brilliant work within the North to show what can be done. The challenge, therefore, is to make this excellence the norm.

Of course, a great childhood isn’t just about going to a great school. That’s why this project has looked at family life, the impact of communities and the richness of opportunity – friendships, interests, sports and arts that can build confidence and open up new opportunities. Community institutions as well as education and ultimately employers and business all shape children’s experience and prospects, and again, we highlight the best of them in this report.

Growing up North has sought to:

  • Increase our understanding of children’s attitudes, aspirations and expectations and how these relate to locality
  • Look at the progression of children from early years to early adulthood across different regions in the North of England
  • Assess the opportunities available to young people between and within different regions and City regions

Its conclusions demand a commitment to change. The North can deliver this change, but only if it puts children at the centre of the wider changes that are underway. The recommendations in this report detail how this can be done.