The Bishop of Newcastle is calling for the region to pull together in a bid to raise the aspirations of young people.
The Rt Rev Martin Wharton said that if schools in the North East are to be successful they must be supported by a committed network of other groups and not be expected to go it alone.
His comments came after Ofsted’s publication of which schools are performing well and which are struggling pointed to high levels of attainment at primary schools in the North East that does not translate into good GCSE and A-level results.
The region’s secondary schools are trailing behind the rest of the country, with 6% of the 182 secondary schools inspected classed as inadequate (higher than the national average of 5%) and only 19% rated outstanding, below the UK rate of 23%.
There has been some debate in Parliament about the region’s primary-secondary divide and politicians are now calling it the “North East conundrum”.
Speaking in the House of Lords, Bishop Martin said: “The North East faces serious and significant challenges. Despite having the best record of exports of any region in the country, we have a higher level of unemployment than any other region, particularly youth unemployment, and significant and intractable levels of poverty.
“Before I went to the North East, I served as Bishop of Kingston upon Thames, and the differences are huge and stark. It has been like living in two very different countries, two very different worlds.
“It is about closing the attainment gap between the results achieved by children from disadvantaged backgrounds compared to children elsewhere.
“The North East local enterprise partnership (LEP) has put schools at the heart of the strategy for economic development of the region. It calls for a North East Challenge modelled on the success of London Challenge. However, schools cannot do it all. They can be part of the solution, of course, but there has to be a wider and more integrated response.”
Headteachers, governors, council leaders and even employers are drawing up a master plan to improve results in some of the region’s worst-performing schools, the bishop said.
The North East Schools Challenge – a version of a similar scheme that pushed up children’s achievement in London – is part of £200m-a-year proposals put together by business and political leaders in the region.
A number of names for the new North East Schools’ super group have already been suggested, including “Great Expectations.”
Bishop Martin said: “If our schools are to be successful in transforming communities facing adversity they will need to be supported by a whole and committed network of other groups, including local business, local government, the arts, churches and other local institutions.
“Partnerships are absolutely vital, whether they be with, say, the Army which has led to the Combined Cadet Force being established last year or with other schools elsewhere, including independent schools. We need to continue to find new ways of building new networks which will successfully work in harness with our schools.”
Bishop Martin pointed to the success of the Northumberland Church of England Academy in Ashington, which was set up by the Diocese of Newcastle in association with the Duke of Northumberland, and which has had success in getting more young people to stay on into sixth form and improving parental engagement.
He said: “Education is the only means to break down some of the barriers that hold young people back. To build an aspirational culture that values, encourages and equips every child it has to permeate all that we do, so that we can overcome the disadvantage in which our children find themselves and enable each of them to be the best that they can possibly be.”