The former Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield (@annelongfield) is joining the board of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (@NP_Partnership), the business-backed organisation committed to rebalancing the UK economy, to help drive forward its education and skills agenda.
Longfield, who served as Children’s Commissioner for England from March 2015 to February 2021, has decades of experience campaigning for vulnerable young people, helping to shape national policy towards improving the life chances of children across the country.
In her final speech as Commissioner in February 2021, she warned that the government’s promise to ‘level up’ will be “just a slogan unless it focuses on children”.
Longfield lives in Yorkshire and in 2018 she led a report into the North-South divide in education, Growing Up North, which found that children from disadvantaged backgrounds faced an education gap that starts before schools and widens throughout their school career.
Her appointment will help to support NPP’s ongoing work on the disproportionate impact of the education disadvantage gap in the North of England, which has been exacerbated by school closures and the digital divide during the past year.
Working alongside experts including former CEO of Co-op Academies Trust Frank Norris MBE, as well as organisations such as northern education charity SHINE, NPP’s research examines the factors that affect education progress and attainment.
The organisation has made calls for reform to Pupil Premium funding to ensure it reaches the most disadvantaged, as well as an expansion of the Opportunity Areas programme across the North. It has also supported locally-led initiatives such as Sheffield Hallam’s GROW Mentoring programme in South Yorkshire.
NPP’s ‘Educating the North’ report, published in 2018, found that pupils in the North make a third of a grade less progress overall at sixteen and almost half a grade less in mathematics on average compared with London.
Subsequent analysis, including in its ‘Long-Term Disadvantage in Secondary Schools In England’ report published earlier this year, has found that the problem of disadvantage was a growing problem even before COVID-19.
NPP was established by former Chancellor George Osborne and a group of the North’s leading businesses, spanning a range of industries including construction, retail and technology.
Anne Longfield said:
“The education disadvantage gap is nothing new but there’s a growing pile of evidence that COVID-19 has had a catastrophic impact in widening this divide – and that impact has disproportionately fallen on children in the North of England.
“It’s time for Whitehall to recognise that education is a critical economic priority. This isn’t just about repairing some of the damage of the past year but tackling those entrenched problems that had an effect on learning and attainment even before the pandemic.
“Committing the £15billion in funding requested by Sir Kevan Collins would be a start – otherwise we risk failing an entire generation of children and undermining the UK’s future economic potential.”
Lord Jim O’Neill, vice-chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said:
“Coming out of the pandemic, we need to double down on our efforts to raise education standards among children across the North and I have no doubt that Anne’s expertise will be invaluable in this space.
“Education is one – perhaps even the most important – piece of the productivity puzzle. Rebalancing the UK economy cannot and will not happen without removing the barriers for our children and young people entering more productive, higher paid careers.
“That means addressing the issues faced long-term disadvantaged children both in the classroom and beyond the school gate.”