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Tackling inequalities for northern pupils


Generic pic of three female school pupils

Northern schools are losing out on hundreds of pounds of funding per pupil compared to those in London, according to a new report co-led by the University of Bradford.

The report, Addressing Education and Health Inequity, commissioned by the Child of the North All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), also shows pupils in the north of England have higher mental and physical health absences.  

It points to the risk of a "timebomb" such a lack of support for pupils could create for public services, such as the NHS, social care and criminal justice system in future years 

Dr Lucy Eddy, a lecturer in Psychology at the University of Bradford, led on chapter six of the report looking at the intersections and interactions between health and education. Her research on school-based screening and support for motor skill difficulties (FUNMOVES) was also featured as a case study in chapter 10 on evidence-based approaches to addressing the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) crisis.  

Lucy said: "The report shines a spotlight on the inequalities that children growing up in the north of England are facing. It is crucial that action is taken to ensure all children have the opportunity to thrive.”  

"Engines of creativity"

The University of Bradford collaborated with the N8 Research Partnership, a group of eight research-intensive northern universities, and Health Equity North. The report was launched to MPs in parliament on Monday, 11 September. 

In her foreword, former Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield CBE, Chair of the Commission on Young Lives, highlighted the importance of universities as "engines of creativity and innovation" in providing evidence for policy makers to implement change. She also praised Bradford, in particular, for being a "City of Research," established by Professor John Wright, who founded Born in Bradford, one of the largest research studies in the world, tracking the lives of over 30,000 children to find out what influences their health and wellbeing.  

The report found that, over the last decade, schools in the north of England have received on average 9.7 percent less funding from the National Funding Formula compared to those in the south. Schools in London received an average of £6,610 per pupil compared to £6,225, £5,956, and £5,938 in the North East, North West, and Yorkshire and The Humber, respectively.  

Pupils in London, on average, achieve a third of a grade higher than those in the north.  

Children in the most affluent schools in the country had bigger real terms increases in funding than those in the most deprived ones, despite the increased burden placed on these schools due to wider societal issues that impact the families they serve.  

School absences 

This inequity corresponds with children in the north having higher school absences, including health and mental health absences, and educational performance is poorer. For example, in the 2022/23 autumn term, school absence rates were 7.9 per cent in the North East and 7.7 per cent in Yorkshire and The Humber, compared to 7.0 per cent for Outer London and 7.2 per cent in Inner London.  

Children are also more likely to be persistently absent -  missing more than 10 per cent of school - in the North East (25.6 per cent) and Yorkshire and The Humber (24.5 per cent) compared to Outer London (23.1 per cent) and Inner London (23.8 per cent).  

Data also showed that children born into the poorest fifth of families in the UK are almost 13 times more likely to experience poor health and educational outcomes by the age of 17.  

Lucy said: "The report showcases exciting and innovative research that is being conducted by universities in the north of England to tackle inequities in their communities. Whilst evidence-based research will play a pivotal role in change, this alone is not enough, a whole-system approach is needed to drive forward a more equitable future.”  


The report provides a range of evidence-based recommendations to address the issues over a 10-year plan, with a key focus on collaboration between education, health, local authorities and academia, including: 

  • Allocating additional funding to secondary and post-16 providers to support young people from the most disadvantaged areas over 2025-30.  
  • Implementing the National Audit Office’s (NAO) recommendation that the Department for Education: “Evaluate the impact of the National Funding Formula and minimum funding levels over time and use that information to inform whether further action is needed to meet its objectives." Funding should be commensurate to the level of need to reduce longstanding inequalities in attainment outcomes. 
  • Developing options immediately to adjust the NFF criteria from 2025 to include the “health burden” borne by schools (with funding settlements considered holistically across the Departments for Education, and Health and Social Care). 
  • Creating formal partnerships at local authority area level that enable schools, health services, police, local authorities, voluntary services, regional universities, faith leaders, and businesses to drive “whole-system” approaches to improving social mobility, health, and education through schools and nurseries.  
  • Establishing “Act Locally” convening partnerships at place level (i.e., ward or similar) that allow schools to work with their communities, children’s service professionals, and businesses to influence and drive a more effective, efficient, and responsive offer from local services. 
  • Allocating at least £1m per year to allow meaningful action at scale through formal partnerships between local authorities and the Government. Robust monitoring and challenge should be overseen by the Government to ensure value for money and learning. 
  • Local universities and authorities should work together to create a positive and inclusive network of R&D departments across the North of England and more widely. 
  • Creating connected datasets in ways that can support coordinated public service delivery and are enhanced and disseminated to other partners such as those across the N8 Research Partnership and NHSA (Northern Health Science Alliance) research-intensive universities, and NHS hospital trusts in the North of England.
  • Adopting the programmes outlined in this report to support children and young people’s health and learning needs.
  • Using schools as “hubs” for delivering health services, especially within disadvantaged communities; providing support so they can help families meet the health needs of their children and young people (e.g., through funding family support workers).
  • Empowering schools to deliver the FUNMOVES (FUNdamental MOVEment Skills) assessment to measure children’s motor skills so that they can support children where necessary.
  • Supporting expansion of the #BeeWell programme to all areas so every school can understand and respond to the mental ill-health experienced by their students.
  • Tackling the digital divide so all children have equitable access to the tools they need to learn and thrive in the increasingly digital world 

Anne Longfield CBE said: “The link between health inequalities and educational attainment is undeniable. This report provides evidence-based recommendations offering political parties a route map for action. The costs of inaction during childhood are far too high for individuals, families, and society. The time to reverse the tide of growing inequality is upon us.”  

The APPG’s membership includes 12 Labour and Conservative MPs, the Lord Bishop of Durham, and Baroness Blake of Leeds, a Labour life peer. 

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