Tackling inequalities for northern pupils

Health news

Northern schools are losing out on hundreds of pounds of funding per pupil compared to those in London, according to a new report co-led by the University of Leeds. 

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. 

Commissioned by the Child of the North All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), the Addressing Education and Health Inequity report has been launched to MPs in parliament this week. 

Our report is focused on bringing about meaningful change, regardless of political standpoints.

Professor Mark Mon-Williams (Psychology)

The report outlines the inequities facing pupils in the north, from lower funding levels to higher mental and physical health absences; links to health and educational outcomes at age 17 and the risk to public services in future as a result of these inequalities. 

The report also features a range of evidence-based recommendations put together by the academics which can help to address these issues, with a key focus being collaboration across education, health, local authorities and academia The report is a collaboration between the N8 Research Partnership, of which the University of Leeds is a member, and Health Equity North, a virtual institute focused on place-based solutions to public health problems and health inequalities.

Meaningful change

Professor Mark Mon-Williams, Professor of Psychology in Leeds’s School of Psychology co-authored the report and was present at the Parliamentary launch. He said: “This is the start of a campaign to tackle childhood inequalities. APPG members will now take the report to the relevant departments and ministers, so that debates can happen in the chamber to see where consensus can be reached. 

“Our report is focused on bringing about meaningful change, regardless of political standpoints.” 

The report found that over the last decade, pupils in London received on average 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 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. 

Addressing inequalities

Professor Mon-Williams said: “Schools in the North of England are serving disproportionate numbers of children growing up in disadvantaged circumstances, but with the right support these children can thrive in school. The current funding formula used by Government doesn’t go far enough in recognising the wider challenges faced by schools and nurseries in disadvantaged areas, such as the physical and mental health of children and their families. 

“As this report shows, there are many examples of local initiatives across the North that are working to address educational inequalities in their communities, but the responsibility for creating a fairer future for children across the country needs to be shared across the whole system. We hope that government act on the evidence and the recommendations set out in this report.” 

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: 

1. Allocate additional funding to secondary and post-16 providers to support young people from the most disadvantaged areas over 2025-30. 

2. 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. 

3. 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). 

4. 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. 

5. 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. 

6. 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. 

7. 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. 

8. 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. 

9. Adopt the programmes outlined in this report to support children and young people’s health and learning needs. 

10. 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). 

11. Support expansion of the #BeeWell programme to all areas so every school can understand and respond to the mental ill-health experienced by their students. 

12. Tackle the digital divide so all children have equitable access to the tools they need to learn and thrive in the increasingly digital world. 

Professor Mon-Williams added: “Some of our recommendations will require new legislation, but others we would want the current government to enact now. 

“This is a 10-year plan for how we support the next generation and ensure we level up so that every child has the opportunity to thrive.” 

The APPG’s membership includes 12 Labour and Conservative MPs, the Lord Bishop of Durham, and Baroness Blake of Leeds, a Labour life peer. 

Further information

Email University of Leeds press officer Lauren Ballinger via l.ballinger@leeds.ac.uk with media enquiries.