A £24M pound government package aiming to boost social mobility and education in the North-east has been met with a mixture of praise and caution.
The “Opportunity North East” fund has vowed to plough £12m into improving how pupils cope with going from primary schools into secondary schools in a bid to “drive up standards” and “improve outcomes” for school leavers.
Another £12m will go into early career teacher training and “raising teaching standards” in the region’s secondary schools.
Middlesbrough, Redcar and Hartlepool are three of the four targets of the programme which was launched by Education Secretary Damian Hinds on Monday (October 8).
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen and fellow Conservative Simon Clarke, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, were full of praise for the £24m scheme.
Mayor Houchen said: “We’re working hard to develop proper home-grown talent to support our growing economy, but there’s still much more to do.
“This additional investment from government will go an exceptionally long way to help our schools tackle the challenges that they face, raise student aspirations and good quality education.”
And Mr Clarke added: “This is great news and is something local heads asked for when I brought Damian to meet them in Guisborough in his first month in the job.”
However, details of how the money will be broken down have not yet been revealed.
Joe Waddle, senior officer at National Education Union (NEU), said any money going into education was welcome – but feared it would not do enough.
The northern branch officer added: “Ultimately, it would be churlish to say money going into education is not welcome but unfortunately it’s a mere drip in a massive ocean of want and need when the government needs to fund education properly.”
The scheme aims to get secondary schools and colleges work together to encourage young people to consider university, degree apprenticeships and other high quality technical education options.
This would be done alongside “partnerships with businesses” to improve job prospects for young people.
Mayor Houchen added: “It is an outrage that white working class British boys are the least likely out of any ethnic group to progress to university. We have to do something now to prevent a lost generation of young kids on Teesside feeling shunned and left behind.
“Working with our fantastic schools and business leaders, we will ensure this money is targeted properly so our young people are given every opportunity to fill the high-quality jobs of tomorrow.”
But Mr Waddle had his doubts about the scale of the project – adding schools were already “losing money hand over fist”.
The union officer said: “I appreciate the fact that putting money into schools will help somewhere down the line.
“But an average primary school has a budget of £500,000 a year – so how far does £24m go? It’s nothing in terms of addressing the problems.
“We are seeing schools having to have parents provide textbooks, paper and pens and we are seeing teachers having to feed children.
“I am not saying the union doesn’t welcome money going into education but it’s wrong to say this is a huge initiative to raise standards as it’s nowhere near what’s needed to improve things in the region.”