Jeremy Middleton, founder of Middleton Enterprises

In the latest of a series of articles looking at the areas potentially boosted by the North East devolution deal and strong mayoral leadership, Jeremy Middleton looks at education and skills.

If the North East is to become more prosperous, we need to improve the support we give young people to secure the best results and become the most employable young people in the country. That is how they will become more affluent than their parents.

It seems appropriate right now to look at education and skills, in light of the recent devolution agreement and the IPPR North report that led The Journal to splash the headline “Children falling behind as soon as they are born” on the front page.

Quite rightly, IPPR North highlighted closing the early years achievements gap as one of the key benchmarks for the success of the Northern Powerhouse.

For decades, studies have called for improved educational outcomes and higher skills levels. This was the same conclusion Lord Adonis reached when he carried out the North East Economic Review, nearly four years ago.

His recommendations to raise education standards, improve employability and address the skills gap still stand. So, to our shame, do some of the recommendations that have made precious little progress - notably the North East Schools Challenge, which seems to be a victim of lack of leadership.

However, we cannot give up. There is a clear need to change and an open goal to be scored if we can change. I am no educationalist, just a commentator, but here is a list of things that could be done if we can find the institutional will to act.

We need to give the North East Schools Challenge a leader of talent, stature and independence. Perhaps more than one. They need to understand the current system, but not be part of it. The local authorities have a key role to play but also too much vested interest to do it alone.

This leader needs the power to act with ambition. It's no secret we must be honest about results, set ambitious targets, focus on great schools leadership, act when performance falls short, reward success, try new things, encourage diversity. It worked in London and it can work here - if we treat it as a priority.

We need to embrace the business community. All our young people want to find their way in the world. To do that they need to understand it. That means bringing business into schools and taking young people into businesses. Most young people get a week’s work experience. At Studio West, a new school in West Denton, Newcastle, they get 12 weeks’ work experience. That is how young people learn about the world of work and how businesses learn about the talents of our young people. We need more of this for all young people.

We need to embrace apprenticeships. This government is overseeing the country’s biggest ever programme to encourage apprenticeships. There is lots of encouragement for this from the LEP, from local authorities and from business support organisations and private companies like The Journal and its sister papers. But we need to be the region with the highest level of apprenticeship take up in the country - and to do that we need to make it easier for businesses to understand what is involved and to develop their own programmes.

This region needs to direct its public money to reward our colleges when they turn out skilled young people who will fill our skills gaps and will find well-paid employment. It is not a good use of public money to encourage young people to study for skills that will leave many of them underemployed and poorly paid. The North East skills pilot that was supposed to be testing our way to this skills-friendly world has become lost somewhere and needs to be rescued.

We need to encourage entrepreneurship everywhere. Young people are just as able to set up their own businesses as older people. Some would say they understand the world better and are less afraid of failure. So, we need to be sure that in schools, colleges and universities the option of self employment is explained. Role models, case studies, careers guidance, incubators and start-up funding all need to be promoted to offer our young people choice and to give us the best chance of finding the entrepreneurs of the future.

We need to encourage school diversity, not be afraid of it. New schools are controversial in educational circles and this region has historically been badly-served by coming late to education reforms. From the grant maintained schools and technology colleges in the 80s, to academy schools in the 90s and now free schools and studio schools, we have been at the back of the queue. This, too, has to change. If the North East is to be at the top of education tables, then we need to be at the forefront of reform.

So, if we want a North East Powerhouse, we need to deliver the best work-ready young people in the country. We have the natural talent and the evidence is pretty clear what needs to be done. However, that does need leadership, will and ambition. I hope that as the dust settles on the devolution debate the leadership will emerge that will deliver this, possibly the most important building block for a richer North East.

Jeremy Middleton is founder of Middleton Enterprises, a £50m investment company based on Tyneside. He is also a board member of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

ENDS

ISSUED ON BEHALF OF MIDDLETON ENTERPRISES

CONTACT: Paul White on 01325 363436

Notes to Editors:

Middleton Enterprises Ltd is a private investment company that has made a substantial contribution to the North East’s economy by investing in and providing business advice to entrepreneurial businesses.

During recent years, it has supported a number of North East businesses, generally from start-up, usually taking a minority stake and offering strategic advice to support growth.

Jeremy Middleton

Mr Middleton is a high-profile entrepreneur and philanthropist based in Newcastle. He started his career as a Brand Manager at Procter & Gamble before working for PriceWaterhouseCoopers as a Marketing Consultant. He co-founded HomeServe, now a FTSE 250 company which operates in the UK, the USA, France, Spain and Italy, and remains a shareholder with a seat on the Executive Committee. He is a director at North East based energy and water consultancy company Utilitywise PLC.

Mr Middleton and his family are active supporters of Maggie’s Centre and World Vision, an international charity which works to improve the lives of people in developing countries.

Mr Middleton has carried out a range of sponsored fundraising for a variety of charities which to date include the North Pole, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mont Blanc, The Haute Route, Mount McKinley, Mount Elbrus and a cycle ride from London to Paris.

Mr Middleton has been a Board Member of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) since 2011 and is Chairman of the North East LEP Investment Fund, which makes recommendations to the LEP Board for the £25m Growing Places Fund and the £30m Infrastructure Fund.

In 2012 Jeremy was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for Services to Politics and Charities.

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Jeremy Middleton, founder of Middleton Enterprises
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