Children in coastal schools falling behind peers as Education Secretary says says the north-south divide is “too simplistic”

Jessica Carpani
Education Secretary Damian Hinds says says the north-south divide is “too simplistic” - AFP

Children in coastal schools are falling behind their peers the education secretary has warned as he said the traditional concern that the north is more disadvantaged than the south is "too simplistic".  

New data published by the Department for Education (DoE) shows that pupils in coastal areas achieve two and a half grades lower at GCSE. 

Speaking at an event hosted by public service think tank Reform in Broadway House, London, Damian Hinds stated that there is now a shift towards focusing on closing the city vs coastal divide.  

Mr Hinds told the audience that “if we’re to understand the complex makeup of the UK today” the DoE has to address educational disparity between coastal areas and cities not just the south and north.  

He said: “The north south divide is too simplistic a concept, some of the very finest schools and some of the best education attainment is to be found in the north and of course there are parts of the south where things aren’t as good as they should be.” 

In particular, he noted that children in coastal towns were performing behind their peers in cities. He said that there had long been “suspicion that there is some sort of endemic where performance is lower on average” in coastal regions. 

Data released by the DoE supports this analysis, which found that in state-funded schools, children in coastal areas achieved the equivalent of around two and a half grades lower across eight qualifications at GCSE level. 

Children in London in particular do much better at school than elsewhere in the country with Mr Hinds attributing the capital’s success to a comparatively high tutoring rate and a higher density of schools.  

He noted that there are twice as many schools within a one mile radius in Lambeth as there are in Manchester.

This is particularly obvious among disadvantaged children, with those eligible for Free School Meals who live in London being twice as likely to go to a selective university than those who are eligible for the scheme but live elsewhere.

However, this was not limited to London as there is a “cities” and “large conurbations” effect across the country.  On average, disadvantaged pupils achieved around six grades higher and made more progress in schools in major conurbations than those in hamlets and isolated dwellings.

“The ‘city effect’ doesn’t seem to impact only in London," he said. "Some of the things I was talking about like distance are also relevant elsewhere. We find if we look at cities kids in our biggest cities do better than in school settings elsewhere.”  

The new data comes following the announcement last October of six social mobility ‘coldspots’ including Blackpool, Derby, Norwich, Oldham, Scarborough, and West Somerset. 

The Education Secretary said: “It’s no coincidence that in our opportunity areas programme it includes areas which are coastal.”