The government’s white paper on leveling up set the target of nine out of 10 pupils across the country achieving this standard by 2030 – but the current figure is 65%.
Yorkshire has the lowest percentage with the East Midlands at just 63%, with Rotherham the worst performer in the region at 59%.
Even the best performing locations – York and Hull – only achieved 68%.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that “the scale of the challenge is enormous” if the government is to achieve its goal. The research institute’s analysis said: “Overall, in 2019, 65% of pupils leaving primary school met expectations in reading, writing and mathematics.
“On a regional basis, pupils in London have achieved the best results, while those in Yorkshire and the East Midlands have the most ground to catch up.”
He added: “But the gaps between most local areas are overshadowed by the gap between current student performance and government ambition. In 2019, only 21 of England’s 151 local authorities had more than 70% of their primary school leavers meeting expectations.
“Only two – Richmond upon Thames and the City of London – have exceeded 80%. Unfortunately, it is not at all clear that the Leveling Up white paper has plans and funding up to this challenge.
“Without a significant injection of new funds, the fact remains that school spending per pupil will remain below its peak in 2009-2010 until 2024-25.”
The white paper outlines plans to ‘eradicate illiteracy and incalculability’ and plans to create 55 education investment areas, including seven in Yorkshire. Plans include retention payments for top teachers and the creation of “elite” sixth graders.
Rotherham is among the locations, along with Bradford, Doncaster, Kirklees, Leeds, North Yorkshire and Wakefield.
Rotherham councilor Victoria Cusworth, cabinet member for children and young people, said it was difficult to assess how achievable the white paper’s aims were.
She said: “The education upgrade targets are certainly challenging, but we are still awaiting full details on the resources, support and policies that will be in place, so it is difficult to judge how well they are achievable. While we are still awaiting this detail and have time to assess what it will mean in practice, we welcome the added focus on improving the educational attainment of Rotherham’s children.
“It must be recognized that the barriers we face in making meaningful and lasting improvements in education go beyond the classroom and are linked to the broader issues facing communities like ours, which have a legacy of industrial decline and neglect, compounded more recently by austerity and the pandemic.
Make work experience part of the upgrade ride
Student work experience should be included in the government’s upgrade campaign, a social mobility charity has urged.
Stakeholders for schools said increasing the number of work experience placements offered virtually can meet the government’s goal of distributing opportunities more evenly.
Employers have been urged to offer more placements ‘virtually’ amid evidence this would allow young people from all parts of the UK to access them.
Speakers for Schools said it has resources to engage with one million young people a year by 2023, but is calling on 1,500 businesses to get involved.
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