North East needs better schools says Alan Milburn

Former Darlington MP and senior Labour politician Alan Milburn has painted a bleak picture of the North East unless failing schools are forced to improve

Jeremy Pardoe Alan Milburn MP
Alan Milburn MP

High unemployment and crushing poverty in the North East will continue unless failing schools are forced to improve, a major government inquiry has warned.

Former Darlington MP and senior Labour politician Alan Milburn, who lives in Northumberland, issued the warning as he presented the annual report of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, which he chairs.

He said teachers should be offered more pay for teaching at “the toughest schools” – to ensure the most talented teachers moved to schools where they were needed most.

And within schools, funding should be concentrated on struggling pupils so that they are taught in smaller classes than their more able peers.

The Commission was set up by Ministers to monitor progress in cutting child poverty and closing the gap between rich and poor. But in a blunt warning as he presented the Commission’s “State of the Nation” report, Mr Milburn said: “There has been a big rise in the numbers of poor children measured as being in absolute poverty and in working poor families.”

The study warned that the North East has the highest rate of unemployment, at 10.4% compared with 5.8% in the South East. And the variation is partly due to poor schools, the Commission said. It said: “Many of England’s half a million teachers do an excellent job but disadvantaged students are not getting their fair share of the best teachers. In the North East, less than a third of schools in the most deprived areas had teaching rated as good or outstanding compared with 85% in the least deprived, and 77% in the most deprived areas of London.”

Mr Milburn also suggested that benefits should be cut for wealthy pensioners across the UK, and the minimum wage pushed up to improve living standards for hard-pressed workers. He warned the low-paid were the “forgotten people of Britain”, and insisted older people had to bear more of the burden of austerity.

According to the report, the Government’s statutory obligation to end child poverty by 2020 will “in all likelihood be missed by a considerable margin”, perhaps by as many as two million children. Low pay for millions of employees has created a growing group of households for whom work is not a way out of poverty, while middle-class parents, squeezed between falling earnings and rising house prices, university fees and youth unemployment, now fear their children will grow up to be worse off than they are.

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