A female tutor is standing in front of a whiteboard, next to a large TV that is turned off. She is teaching two primary-aged pupils, whose faces are not visible. The tutor is smiling.

Ed Talks: Young people are key to ‘levelling up’

As we approach the 2024 election Ed unpicks the vital role that young people will play in the future of the North


  • Time to read: 5 minutes

As we look ahead to the General Election in July, no doubt we’ll start to hear the phrases ‘levelling up’ and ‘Northern Powerhouse’ with increased frequency. We look at what this narrative means for young people.

Since the levelling up policy was launched in 2019, for many people in the North, these words are still to turn into any kind of meaningful action, as there is still a marked divide between the investment and the opportunities in the North of England vs the South.

Although there will be a lot of talk about infrastructure, business investment and regeneration – and these things are all important – if the next government want to seriously level up the North then they need invest in our young people.

Post-election, the new government needs to look 5, 10 and even 15 years ahead and think about how the North of England of the future can be as well set up for success as possible. The only way to really do this is to ensure that the education sector has the investment necessary to be able to support young people to have the same, if not better, outcomes that their peers in the South.

Year 6 pupils are struggling to meet pre-pandemic levels of attainment

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has just released a report looking at the impact of the Levelling Up pledge five years since its launch. It highlights that while some glimmers of progress have been made, the pandemic has made this much more challenging. Overall, the report finds that progress towards these levelling up missions has been glacial – and, on many metrics, gaps have widened since 2019.

An area where there is still a lot of work to be done is education. One of the key pledges that the government made was that, by 2030, the number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths will have significantly increased. In England, this will mean 90% of children will achieve the expected standard, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas will have increased by over a third.

The reality is that meeting that goal seems a long way off. The latest data included in the IFS report shows that in June 2023 only 60% of 11-year-olds in England met the expected standard in reading, writing and maths. This is up slightly from 59% the year before but down from 65% in the year before the pandemic. There are no local authorities close to meeting the levelling up mission, however there is a striking difference in performance when comparing London with the rest of the country. Tellingly, the 10 best-performing local authorities are all located in the capital.

The only way to ensure that the North is as well set up for success as possible is to ensure that the education sector has the investment necessary to be able to support young people to have the same, if not better, outcomes that their peers in the South."
Ed Marsh, Tutor Trust CEO

There are some additional key areas where geographical disparity is a significant issue for young people.

Increasing geographical disparity is shown in GCSE data

2023’s GCSE results highlighted that the attainment gap between young people in the North and South of England was higher than before the pandemic. The percentage of 2023 entries achieving GCSE grade 7 and above was 28.4% in London. In the North West, the percentage was 18.6% and in Yorkshire and the Humber it was 18.2%. That disparity is pretty staggering and is a stark illustration of the scale of the task ahead for the next government.

Absenteeism needs to be a priority for the next governmnent

Persistent absenteeism is higher in the North of England than in the South and the government must address the root causes of this to effectively begin to see any kind of improvement. At Tutor Trust, young people who are persistently absent from school are one of the groups of pupils who are supported with 1:1 tuition as part of our specialist Tutoring Plus service. In this academic year, we have seen the number of referrals for Tutoring Plus double year on year, highlighting the growth of the need in this area. Significant investment is needed to work with these young people and provide them with the tailored help and support necessary to get them attending school more regularly.

Schools in the North need more funding than those in the South - not less

The biggest challenge for our partner schools, and one which has increased over the last few years, is increasing pressure on budgets, and this is felt more by schools in the North of England than their Southern counterparts. A 2023 report from the All Party Parliamentary Group Child of the North found that schools in the North West of England received £5,956 of funding per pupil and schools in Yorkshire and the Humber received £5,938. In comparison, schools in London receive £6,610 per pupil. This means that finding the budget for additional support which could potentially address the geographical attainment gap – such as tutoring – is much more difficult for schools in the North of England to find. When considering the fact that the National Tutoring Programme will be ending in August there is a real risk that, without sufficient funding, the attainment gap will continue to widen.

The pandemic and cost-of-living crisis continue to be felt more in the North 

Indirectly, factors such as the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have severely impacted the lives of young people in the North as we know that communities in the North have been disproportionately negatively affected by both of these and they continue to have long-reaching ramifications, seen even in children who have just begun their school journeys but who are more likely to need additional support due to being ‘lockdown babies’. 

The young people of our region need more investment than the wealthier South if we really want to level up and create an environment in which the young people of today can truly become the Northern Powerhouse that we’ve been promised for so long.


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