A "deeply troubling" north-south divide in the quality of secondary schools means children in the North or Midlands are less likely to receive a good secondary education than those in the South, an Ofsted report has revealed.

England is "a nation divided at the age of 11" Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw said on Tuesday, launching his fourth Annual Report on schools and further education.

We are witnessing an educational division of the country after age 11, with secondary schools performing well overall in the South but struggling to improve in the North and Midlands.

Ofsted Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw
  • What did the report say?

While the report revealed that children in primary schools were excelling across the country, secondary schools particularly in the North and Midlands were under-performing.

Figures show that 79% of schools in southern England are rated as good or outstanding compared to 68% in the North and the Midlands.

And 13 of the 16 worst schools in the country were in the North or the Midlands.


Number of pupils in schools in the North and Midlands that are 'under-performing'.

Bradford was identified as a city with particularly low standards in both primary and secondary schools.

With more than 200 schools and 95,000 pupils, just 67% of primary pupils and only 42% of secondary pupils attend schools in the city that are good or outstanding.

  • Why is there a North-South divide in secondary education?

The report said the divide cannot be explained simply by the higher levels of economic deprivation found in the North and Midlands but also lack of "political will".

Teacher recruitment and retention in poorer areas, with continued shortages in key subjects such as science and maths, was a "very real problem" the report said.


Percentage of schools in southern England rated as good or outstanding.


Percentage of schools in the North of England and the Midlands rated as good or outstanding.

Many of the areas highlighted in the report are satellite towns of major cities.

Sir Michael said that if cities like Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield are to be the "engine rooms of a Northern Powerhouse", they need to prioritise "working with the towns on their borders to raise attainment and close skills gaps across a wider area".

He told ITV News: "Social justice demands that things are more equal. It does mean that some youngsters are losing out in a post code lottery. And if the Northern powerhouse is to really get off the ground then we have got to have a better education system post 11."

  • What can be done?

Sir Michael warned that if left unaddressed, the consequences will be profound with fewer young people equipped with the skills and knowledge needed in the UK.

He said that action is needed to address needed to address the capacity issues facing England's education system, including a shortage of high-quality secondary school leaders, especially in the North and Midlands.

But Sir Michael said that the challenges facing the education system are not structural, arguing that a lack of capacity in leadership, teaching and governance, and an insufficient focus on the disadvantaged must be urgently addressed at a national level.

We have to ask whether this level of failure is being effectively challenged by local politicians and school leaders, and whether the relatively successful big cities in the North and Midlands are playing their part in supporting their neighbouring towns.

Sir Michael Wilshaw
Education secretary Nicky Morgan emphasised the improvement to primary-level education Credit: PA

Education secretary Nicky Morgan has acknowledged the need to tackle the regional divide in secondary education.

This progress [in primary education] should not be ignored, but like Sir Michael Wilshaw we believe more needs to be done to deliver educational excellence everywhere and tackle pockets of under-performance, so that we can extend opportunity to every single child.

Nicky Morgan, education secretary