Calls for urgent action to prioritise children’s health and education as new analysis finds schools funding imbalance risks widening regional childhood inequalities
Northern schools are losing out on hundreds of pounds of funding per pupil compared to those in London, according to a new report co-authored by academics from northern ARCs (NIHR Applied Research Collaborations), including Professor Judith Rankin from Newcastle University, who is Supporting Children and Families Lead for the ARC North East and North Cumbria.
Over the last 10 years, ongoing inequalities in funding have meant schools in the North of England have received less money from the National Funding Formula (NFF) on average than their southern counterparts.
The new analysis, by academics from the Child of the North group – a partnership between Health Equity North and N8 Research Partnership – on behalf of the Child of the North All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), found that on average pupils in London received 9.7% more funding than those in the North.
Schools in London received an average of £6,610 per pupil compared to £6,225, £5,956, and £5,938 in the North East, North West, and Yorkshire and The Humber, respectively.
Children in the most affluent schools in the country had bigger real terms increases in funding than those in the most deprived ones, despite the increased burden placed on these schools due to wider societal issues that impact the families they serve.
This inequity corresponds with children in the North having higher school absences, including health and mental health absences, and educational performance is poorer.
The Child of the North: Addressing Education and Health Inequity report also highlights that children born into the poorest fifth of families in the UK are almost 13 times more likely to experience poor health and educational outcomes by the age of 17.
This poses a risk for public services in future years, as the long-term consequences of poor education can not only impact physical and mental health, but can also place great pressure on the NHS, social care, and criminal justice system in future.
It has prompted rallying calls for immediate action to address the imbalance from northern MPs and academics, who have set out a suite of recommendations to help level the funding playing field.
Contributing author, Judith Rankin, Professor of Maternal and Child Health at Newcastle University’s Population Health Sciences Institute said: “This important report lays bare the stark inequalities in educational outcomes between children in the North and the rest of the country. Now is the time for government to take action to invest in children’s education and reduce the impact of poverty on education and health.”
The Child of the North APPG members and report authors are calling for an overhaul of the current school funding formula, so it takes into consideration attainment inequalities and the health burden borne by schools, to prevent these disparities continuing to increase.
The report also illustrates how public services in the North of England have come together to create innovative approaches that bring health and education together to deal with the poor outcomes faced by children and young people.
It includes examples of regional evidence-based collaborative initiatives that can provide a blueprint for transformational change nationally.
Further findings from the report include:
- NFF funding per pupil increased by 4 percentage points less in real terms in the most-deprived primary schools (0.7%) compared to the least-deprived ones (4.8%). between 2017–18 and 2022–23, creating a lag in the reduction of the inequality gap.
- School absence rates were greater in the North East and Yorkshire and The Humber, compared to Outer London and Inner London in the 2022/23 autumn term.
- Children were also more likely to be persistently absent in the North East (25.6%) and Yorkshire and The Humber (24.5%) compared to Outer London (23.1%) and Inner London (23.8%).
- Students in London achieve a third of a grade higher, on average, than students in the North.
- Children from the lowest income households are five times more likely to experience poor academic achievement.
- Removing socio-economic inequality in early childhood would reduce the number of children experiencing multiple adversities by more than 80%.
- Children who fail to reach a good level of development on the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile are nine times more likely to perform below expected levels in reading and maths at Key Stage 1 .
- They are also three times more likely to become a persistent absentee, and three times more likely to become NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) at 16-18 years of age.
The report highlights groundbreaking projects in the North that showcase the power of working collaboratively and resource sharing to achieve transformational changes on pupils’ educational achievement and lives.
This includes a first-of-its-kind connected database in Bradford that contains the primary and secondary care health records of citizens linked with education records, social care, and policing data.
The tool allows scientists, working with policymakers, to undertake holistic data science that can shine a light onto critical social issues that span disparate services. This provides a proven methodology that can be scaled up across the North of England to inform a national approach.
In addition, there are also insights from young people and school leaders who give a first-hand perspective on how the issues highlighted in the report affect them.
Emma Lewell-Buck MP for South Shields and Co-Chair of the Child of the North APPG, said: “This report outlines the injustice experienced leading to poor educational, health and employment outcomes. We must act on the recommendations to avoid long-term costs to our health services, the economy, and most importantly the life chances of all the bright children in my area and the rest of the north.”
The Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, said: “It is shocking, though sadly unsurprising, to read about the regional inequalities that children in the North are facing in our education system. There is a great need to re-evaluate our education funding, as well as partner with schools and local organisations, to better support the needs of children and young people. No child’s chances in life should be curtailed by their postcode.”
Peter Gibson MP for Darlington said: “Education is key to ensuring that every child can reach their full potential. It is hugely important that we give everyone the best start in life so that they can take advantage of the opportunities afforded to them and I am determined that every child in Darlington should have the best start in life.
“I regularly engage with and support local schools in Darlington, and I am determined to continue to work with them, alongside Ministers, to ensure that no child is left behind.”
Anne Longfield, CBE, Chair of the Commission on Young Lives, who wrote the report Foreword, said: “The link between health inequalities and educational attainment is undeniable. This report provides evidence-based recommendations offering political parties a route map for action. The costs of inaction during childhood are far too high for individuals, families, and society. The time to reverse the tide of growing inequality is upon us.”
The report suggests practical steps that should be taken both at a local level and makes clear recommendations on the actions that central Government should take to improve outcomes for children and young people growing up in the UK.
The recommendations include:
- Allocate additional funding to secondary and post-16 providers to support young people from the most disadvantaged areas over 2025-30.
- Implement the National Audit Office’s (NAO) recommendation that the Department for Education: “Evaluate the impact of the National Funding Formula and minimum funding levels over time and use that information to inform whether further action is needed to meet its objectives”. Funding should be commensurate to the level of need to reduce longstanding inequalities in attainment outcomes.
- Develop options immediately to adjust the NFF criteria from 2025 to include the “health burden” borne by schools (with funding settlements considered holistically across the Departments for Education, and Health and Social Care).
- Create formal partnerships at local authority area level, that enable schools, health services, police, local authorities, voluntary services, regional universities, faith leaders, and businesses to drive “whole-system” approaches to improving social mobility, health, and education through schools and nurseries.
- Establish “Act Locally” convening partnerships at place level (i.e., ward or similar) that allow schools to work with their communities, children’s service professionals, and businesses to influence and drive a more effective, efficient, and responsive offer from local services.
- Allocate at least £1m per year to allow meaningful action at scale through formal partnerships between local authorities and the Government. Robust monitoring and challenge should be overseen by the Government to ensure value for money and learning.
- Local universities and authorities should work together to create a positive and inclusive network of R&D departments across the North of England and more widely.
- Create connected datasets in ways that can support coordinated public service delivery and are enhanced and disseminated to other partners such as those across the N8 Research Partnership and NHSA research-intensive universities, and NHS hospital trusts in the North of England.
- Adopt the programmes outlined in this report to support children and young people’s health and learning needs.
- Use schools as “hubs” for delivering health services, especially within disadvantaged communities; providing support so they can help families meet the health needs of their children and young people (e.g., through funding family support workers).
The report was prepared by experts from northern organisations and universities for the APPG Child of the North. The APPG brings together policy makers and experts in child outcomes from across the country to find solutions to the disparities suffered by children in the North of England. Child of the North is a partnership between Health Equity North and N8 Research Partnership.