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The North-South divide is finally being given the attention it deserves. Now, all we need is for the concern to translate into action, says Warrington headteacher Louise Smith.

Like many parts of the North, we're struggling with a drain of talent.

Youngsters are leaving their home towns to find better paying professional employment and prospects in other areas of the country - London and the South East in particular.

Places like Warrington, where I lead a Multi-Academy Trust of six primary schools, struggle to thrive if they cannot give our ambitious, bright youngsters the right opportunities once they leave the education system.

This is a phenomenon that has become increasingly acute since the financial crash of 2008. Communities across the North (and in plenty of other areas of the UK) have simply not been able to keep up with more prosperous parts of our nation such as London and the South-East.

The results are clear to see just from our own analysis. Of a small sample of children who left Year 6 in one of our primaries in 2008, more than two-thirds are now working in the South-East in sectors like financial services.

The government’s Northern Powerhouse initiative certainly talks a good talk about unleashing the potential of the region, but there is precious little evidence of that moving beyond the rhetoric at the moment.

Despite these challenges, we do have reason to be optimistic. Warrington is in fact really well placed to give our children an excellent future. We are one of the key areas in the country for logistics and distribution, for example, and science related businesses have a growing presence.

Warrington’s own Omega Business Park offers our children some exciting possibilities. The park hosts some huge international businesses, including Amazon, BMW, Hermes, Scania and Travis Perkins. We want more of our children to develop careers with local employers like these and stay in the area, contributing to its development and prosperity, rather than join the exodus.

Several of the schools in our MAT are located in disadvantaged areas with high proportions of pupils attracting pupil premium funding. Many children will come from families where there may be three generations of worklessness. This can be a pattern that could become impossible for today’s children to break out of if we don’t do anything about it.

Our MAT is trying to promote different opportunities and different experiences to our 1,900 pupils. We think that if we give them opportunities to experience worlds which they would not normally encounter then they are more likely to be enthused, focused and think about the possibilities for themselves.

For example, one of our schools – Bruche Primary – is leading on an initiative to develop careers pathways for our children. Headteacher Chris Jones is in close contact with the businesses in Omega Business Park. Together they are developing a programme of school visits and work experience and also careers talks in our schools.

The businesses are also giving us valuable feedback about the qualities and skills, such as character and resilience, that they need in their current and future workforce. Bruche is building this into its PSHE curriculum – launching this September - so that it is tailored to the particular needs its children face in this area. For example, staff are developing the skills to plan activities that help children to develop initiative and persistence.

It is clear that we as educators have a responsibility to prepare our current generation of pupils for a changing and challenging world, and to try our best to make sure that our children are open to the opportunities on their doorstep, as well as further afield. The current changes in the curriculum are a good opportunity to kickstart this process by determining exactly what it is our children need to be ready for this new world - and to then make it an intrinsic part of the curriculum.


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