Northern Powerhouse push on education and skills attainment

Posted: 7 Jul 2017

A major review into education and skills levels in the North has been launched today by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

The review team, chaired by Manchester Airport’s managing director Collette Roche and including economist and former Treasury Minister Lord Jim O’Neill, will investigate why educational attainment at 16 is so low across the wider region and how the demand from employers for technical and higher level skills can better be served.

The NPP Education and Skills Board will also include Sir Michael Wilshaw, who will add his considerable experience as former Chief Inspector of Schools and Head of Ofsted.

The board will undertake a broad consultative exercise across the North, conduct independent research and hold Dragon’s Den-style sessions to gather innovative ideas from a range of groups. It will then publish its findings at the start of 2018.

Across the North, 56 per cent of pupils attain five or more A* to C grades at GCSE, including English and Maths, compared with 61 per cent in London.

In terms of working age (16-64) skills gaps, the North has a deficit across the skills spectrum, with the biggest gaps being at higher skill levels – up to 5.5 per cent gap compared to the rest of the UK. In addition, the proportion of people across the North who leave school with no qualifications is 1% higher than the UK average.

It is challenges such as these that the Education and Skills Board will address. The board includes a range of experts from across the region, including primary and secondary school heads, further education college leaders, educational charities and major employers.

The Education and Skills Board was launched today (Friday, July 7) at Drax Power Station, where the NPP board meeting was held. Drax is an NPP Board member and the UK’s largest single site renewable electricity generator having upgraded half of the power station to sustainable biomass from coal. It produces 16 per cent of the UK’s renewable electricity – enough to power four million households.

NPP chair George Osborne, the former Treasurer turned newspaper editor, toured the site and met 23-year-old Alice Gill, a former Drax apprentice who is now a qualified craftsperson.

Lord O’Neill said: “I am passionate about improving the educational attainment levels and skills shortages of our young people here in the North and this group has the expertise, insight and experience to make a real difference.

“We want to deliver a Northern Powerhouse based on outstanding achievement in our schools and colleges, equipping young people with the skills needed to thrive in the businesses of the future.”

It came as Dong Energy launched a £1.5 million skills fund to boost Stem subject delivery in the Humber over the next 20 years. 

Andy Koss, chief executive of Drax Power, who has also spoken out about Brexit, added: “Businesses have an important part to play in ensuring the North of England has the skilled workforce needed to be successful – apprenticeships play a hugely important role within that.

“Here at Drax we engage with thousands of school children each year through school visits and other STEM outreach work. Enabling them to understand what we have done in the transformation of the power station from coal to renewables and the technology and engineering expertise used to achieve that is vital in helping us to attract future talent.

“Through the apprenticeship scheme we take talent and enthusiasm, and nurture and develop it so we have people with the right skills and expertise to establish the North of England as a global leader in low carbon energy.”

Drax Group employs around 40 apprentices working in a variety of areas of the business including engineering, procurement, tax, warehousing, as well as in its retail businesses Opus Energy and Haven Power, which supply energy to businesses.

Alice Gill, 23, who recently graduated from the four-year Drax apprenticeship scheme, said: “I had a tour of Drax Power Station when I was at school and it had a lasting effect on me – it’s part of what made me want to be an engineer.

“The apprenticeship here was a great way into the industry and engineering – to be trained and be paid at the same time was a brilliant opportunity for me. Drax is a really interesting place to work throughout my years as an apprentice and now as full time Drax employee.”

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership is an independent body launched in September 2016 by  Mr Osborne to bring together the voice of business and civic leaders across the North and increase the contribution of the North to the UK economy. 

The board includes Associated British Ports and Siemens.

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