£24million fund launched to improve opportunities for young people in North East

Education Secretary Damian Hinds.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds.

Opportunities and job prospects for young people in the North East are to be boosted by a new £24million programme, the Education Secretary has announced.

Launching Opportunity North East, Damian Hinds said it is essential to prevent pupils in the region, which had a lower percentage of young people going to top universities than any other area of the country in 2017, from "missing out".

Half the fund is set to be invested in boosting early career training for new teachers in a bid to raise standards in schools, with the remaining £12million going towards driving up standards, improving outcomes for students aged 16 or over and improving the transition from primary to secondary school.

The programme will also partner with local businesses in order to create more opportunities for young people across the region.

Projects funded by the programme will be in place in 2019, and an executive board of education, business and council leaders in the North East is to be formed with the goal of pushing Opportunity North East forward.

Although the North East has some of the best-performing primary schools in the country, it is claimed that secondary school performance is currently below that of other regions.

At an event at Cardinal Hume Secondary School in Gateshead, Mr Hinds said: "There are today too many education measures on which the North East is listed ninth in the list of nine English regions. It doesn't have to be like that.

"In fact the North East has a lot of really outstanding education - especially so at primary level.

"The job now is to spread that through more of the secondary level and beyond."

During the visit, Mr Hinds is also set to challenge a panel of education experts, comprised of headteachers, business leaders and university staff, by asking what they can do to "raise aspirations among all working class communities".

The Education Secretary will discuss the need to create better access to university for students from black and ethnic minority groups, but will add that educational disadvantage "is not limited to a single group".

He will say: "White British disadvantaged boys are the least likely of any large ethnic group to go to university.

"We need to ask ourselves why that is and challenge government, universities and the wider system to change that.

"It's vital that we do this to make sure that no part of our country feels as though it has been left behind, and that every community feels like this is a country that works for everyone."

Russell Hobby, chief executive of Teach First, said: "It is good to see the Department for Education investing in their recruitment and development.

"For every young person in the region, we look forward to working with government, schools and the wider community to support more young people to thrive."

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said that missed opportunities for children in the North East are the result of the Government's own policies.

She said: "The funding announced today is nothing compared to the funding that has been cut from Sure Start centres, schools, and colleges across the region.

"The Tories are trying to say that austerity is over, but the reality is that schools are still facing a funding crisis after eight years of deep and damaging cuts.

"Instead of tinkering around the edges, the next Labour government will genuinely end Tory austerity, investing in every part of our education system in a National Education Service for the many, not the few."

Dr Lynne McKenna, dean of the Faculty of Education and Society at the University of Sunderland, said: “The creation of Opportunity North East and the investment it will bring to the region is very welcome indeed.

“At the University of Sunderland we have a long-standing commitment to widening participation and raising aspirations and the additional investment will build on this work.

“Alongside the many courses we offer, our Integrated Foundation Programme prepares students for degree level study and our commitment to degree apprenticeships and work-based learning integrates academic study with practical application in the workplace.”

She added: “Training teachers for over 100 years, we are a major supplier of high-quality teaching graduates in the region, in the UK and internationally. This additional investment of £12 million to develop an Early Career Framework for teachers will certainly enhance the quality of teaching and raise standards within the region. We look forward to being a part of developing the plan.”