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A major review into education and skills levels in the North has been launched by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP).

The review team, chaired by Manchester Airport’s Managing Director Collette Roche and including economist and former Treasury Minister Lord Jim O’Neill, will investigate why educational attainment at 16 is so low across the region and how the demand from employers for technical and higher level skills can better be served.

The NPP Education and Skills Board will also include Sir Michael Wilshaw, who will add his considerable experience as former Chief Inspector of Schools and Head of Ofsted.

The Board will undertake a broad consultative exercise across the North, conduct independent research and hold Dragon’s Den-style sessions to gather innovative ideas from a range of groups. It will then publish its findings at the start of 2018.

Across the North, 56% of pupils attain five or more A* to C grades at GCSE, including English and Maths, compared with 61% in London.

In terms of working age (16-64) skills gaps, the North has a deficit across the skills spectrum, with the biggest gaps being at higher skill levels – up to 5.5% gap compared to the rest of the UK. In addition, the proportion of people across the North who leave school with no qualifications is 1% higher than the UK average.

It is challenges such as these that the Education and Skills Board will address. The Board includes a range of experts from across the region, including primary and secondary school heads, further education college leaders, educational charities and major employers.

The Education and Skills Board was launched today at Drax Power Station in Selby, North Yorkshire, where the NPP Board meeting was held. Drax is an NPP Board member and the UK’s largest single site renewable electricity generator having upgraded half of the power station to sustainable biomass from coal. It produces 16% of the UK’s renewable electricity – enough to power four million households.

NPP Chair George Osborne toured the site and met Alice Gill, 23, a former Drax apprentice who is now a qualified craftsperson.

Another NPP Board member – Manchester Airport – is one business already seeing the value in a widespread education, employment and skills programme. It delivers schemes that aim to engage with young people all the way from primary school through to secondary school and in later life as they look to enter the employment market.

Around 10,000 young people a year benefit from projects including aviation-themed lesson plans, STEM masterclasses and careers days and entrepreneurial challenges. Its on-site training academy works to equip people with the entry-level skills they need to find work on the airport campus, while other schemes are specifically aimed at hard-to-reach groups.

Collette Roche said: “Education and skills are hugely important to the future of the Northern Powerhouse and I am delighted that we have such a well-qualified group of experts to address these issues.

“We will be looking at all aspects of the education system, focussing on improving results at age 16 but also going back to early years and determining how this affects attainment in later life.

“The skills gap is hindering businesses all over the region and the input of major employers will be vital in identifying the areas our young people need to focus on.”

Lord O’Neill added: “I am passionate about improving the educational attainment levels and skills shortages of our young people here in the North and this group has the expertise, insight and experience to make a real difference.

“We want to deliver a Northern Powerhouse based on outstanding achievement in our schools and colleges, equipping young people with the skills needed to thrive in the businesses of the future.”

Andy Koss, CEO of Drax Power, added: “Businesses have an important part to play in ensuring the North of England has the skilled workforce needed to be successful – apprenticeships play a hugely important role within that.

“Here at Drax we engage with thousands of school children each year through school visits and other STEM outreach work. Enabling them to understand what we have done in the transformation of the power station from coal to renewables and the technology and engineering expertise used to achieve that is vital in helping us to attract future talent.

“Through the apprenticeship scheme we take talent and enthusiasm, and nurture and develop it so we have people with the right skills and expertise to establish the North of England as a global leader in low carbon energy.”

Drax Group employs around 40 apprentices working in a variety of areas of the business including engineering, procurement, tax, warehousing, as well as in its retail businesses Opus Energy and Haven Power, which supply energy to businesses.

Alice Gill, 23, who recently graduated from the four-year Drax apprenticeship scheme, said: “I had a tour of Drax Power Station when I was at school and it had a lasting effect on me – it’s part of what made me want to be an engineer.

“The apprenticeship here was a great way into the industry and engineering – to be trained and be paid at the same time was a brilliant opportunity for me. Drax is a really interesting place to work throughout my years as an apprentice and now as full time Drax employee.”

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership is an independent body launched in September 2016 by George Osborne to bring together the voice of business and civic leaders across the North and increase the contribution of the North to the UK economy. 

The Board includes Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, Joe Anderson OBE, Mayor of Liverpool, Julie Dore, Leader of Sheffield City Council, Dame Nancy Rothwell , president and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester and John Cridland, Chair of Transport for the North, alongside leaders from MAG, Mace, Drax Power Ltd, Barclays, Associated British Ports, Siemens, HSBC, EY, Arup, Addleshaw Goddard, Bruntwood and Arcadis.

The Education and Skills Board is made up of:

Collette Roche – Managing Director, Manchester Airport Group.

Lord Jim O’Neill – former economist and Treasury minister and Northern Powerhouse Partnership Board member.

Sir Michael Wilshaw – former Chief Inspector of Schools and Head of Ofsted.

Kate Willard – Head of Corporate Projects, Stobbart Group.

Gary Wallis-Clarke – Executive Headteacher, West Jesmond Primary School, Newcastle.

Helen Phillips – Headteacher, Bedford High School, Leigh, Greater Manchester.

Ian Billyard – Principal, Leeds College.

Raksha Pattni – Regional Director, Ambition School Leadership 

Jonathan Moore – Partner, Arcadis.
Simon Nokes – Executive Director Policy & Strategy, Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

Gemma Marsh – Director Skills and Employment, New Economy

The NPP first report, produced in February 2017, identified a series of actions around the Education and Skills agenda. The North should aim to:

  • Eliminate the gap with the rest of the UK in the percentage of good and outstanding secondary schools;
  • Raise attainment at age 16 in English and Maths in the North to be at least the national average, and for the North to be regarded as a leading European region in digital skills at age 16;
  • Be a net importer of graduates, particularly in science and technology skills to support growth in the prime capabilities;
  • Ensure employers can access the skills they need to grow by co-investment, and that local people can see the way to develop adaptable skills for the future to achieve their potential.

About Drax: Drax Group plc plays a vital role in helping change the way energy is generated, supplied and used as the UK moves to a low carbon future. Drax operates the largest power station in the UK, based at Selby, North Yorkshire and supplies 7 percent of the country’s electricity needs. The energy firm converted from burning coal to become a predominantly biomass-fuelled electricity generator. Drax is the biggest single site renewable generator in the UK and the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.  Its 2,300-strong staff operate across three principal areas of activity – electricity generation, electricity sales to business customers and compressed wood pellet production.

Independent research by Oxford Economics using 2015 data showed that biomass upgrades have helped to support 14,150 jobs in the UK, 4,500 of which are in Yorkshire and Humber. In addition, Drax generated almost £500 million for the regional economy and £1.2bn for the whole of the UK.

The Group includes:

Drax Biomass, based in the US and manufactures compressed wood pellets produced from sustainably managed working forests.
Haven Power
, based in Ipswich, providing businesses with electricity.
Opus Energy
, based in Oxford, Northampton and Cardiff, providing electricity and gas to businesses.
Billington Bioenergy
, based in Liverpool with depots across the UK, is one of the leading distributors of wood pellets for sustainable heating in the UK.

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