north england poverty
Children's commissioner for England says young people feel regeneration will not help them
Children growing up in the north's most deprived communities face a "double whammy" of familial disadvantage and poor institutional performance, with up to 15% of children in some areas dropping out of education and training before they are 18, a report has found.

Despite parts of the urban north experiencing rapid regeneration as the government's "northern powerhouse" project progresses, many children - girls in particular - feel they will not benefit from what they view as just "a few shiny new buildings", according to the children's commissioner, Anne Longfield.

She is calling on the poorest northern children to be put at heart of the northern powerhouse, having spent the past year travelling across the north of England interviewing students and their teachers and carers for a new report, Growing Up North.

One of her most "unacceptable" findings is that despite the law now requiring children to stay in education or training until 18, a disproportionate number are dropping out earlier in the north.

Comment: When there are few opportunities, forcing young people to incur debts for training and education they will never use is only beneficial to the institutions and businesses who profit from these schemes - and most are are merely profit making schemes.

Several northern council areas have more than 10% of children missing out on crucial parts of their education - twice the English average, she said. In Knowsley, Merseyside,15% are not in education or training (Neet). In Manchester, Salford and Middlesbrough, 11% of under-18s fall into this category.

"It's absolutely not acceptable," said Longfield, insisting that addressing the Neet issue "has to be an urgent priority to turbocharge those children's futures".

She suggested these children were being forgotten because technology enabled them to stay indoors playing online rather than hanging around in public places. "Kids less and less go out and hang around, that's why people get less and less worried about seeing them. They're at home, they're online playing games," she said.

Northern children who do A-levels have good chances of attending university and the best chance in the country of going into an apprenticeship, the report says. Yet those in receipt of free school meals in London are 40% more likely to get good GCSE results in maths and English and twice as likely to go to university than children receiving free school meals in the north.

Longfield found significant differences in the career aspirations of northern boys and girls and what they believed their local area offered them. "What we heard from girls is that they had much less confidence in things changing," said Longfield.

The report says that although girls continue to outperform boys in school, they are paid less as adults and still do not see themselves in certain well-paid jobs. This is a particular issue in many northern areas, where regeneration strategies focus on science and engineering-focused industries still perceived as male, says the report.

It adds: "There was a fear - particularly pronounced amongst girls - that regeneration was about a few shiny buildings, new shops and pavements, but not much more. In this sense, many young people felt that regeneration was something happening to their city, but not to them."

Comment: And when even the shiniest new buildings in the country's capital lie empty, and the economy is clearly crashing, there can be little hope for those in the most deprived areas.

The report found that children were proud to be northern and did not want to live in London. Many felt there were more opportunities and more money available in the capital, but most did not want to live there for any length of time because of "a variety of pressures associated with living in the south". Even those with a very particular career intention were more likely to want to pursue this abroad than in London, Longfield found.

"Children didn't say, 'I want us to be like London,' at all," she said. "In parts of the north-west, disadvantaged areas of Liverpool and Manchester, they said they wanted their cities to be like New York ... I think they are aware that London is somewhere where you have to have a lot of money, just to maintain your lifestyle day in, day out."

Poor schools continued to hold children back, said Longfield. "Too many children in the north are facing the double whammy of entrenched deprivation and poor schools. They are being left behind. We need to ask why a child from a low-income family in London is three times more likely to go to university than a child who grows up in Hartlepool."