Children’s Commissioner calls for more arts in children’s lives to improve outcomes

26 March 2018

Growing up North, a new report from the Children’s Commissioner published on 26 March, looks at the experiences of children in the North of England. It calls for the poorest children to be put at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse plans, with a similar focus on children’s outcomes that is given to economic regeneration.

The report also calls for children to have better access to arts to improve outcomes and includes the recommendation:

‘Arts, culture and sports bodies should prioritise funding for children with disadvantaged backgrounds.’

Introducing the report, Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield wrote:

‘We found great examples of northern schools boosting communication skills and confidence through languages, creative writing, public performance, visits and local heritage. We found arts, music and sports organisations that develop talent and open up opportunity … We recommend that these approaches are extended throughout northern communities as part of a coherent plan to help disadvantaged children to succeed.’


The report shows how some children in the North face ‘the double-whammy’ of deprivation and poor schools. Evidence shows that disadvantaged children growing up in the North fall far behind their peers in the South. They are less likely to do well in secondary school, more likely to go to a poor school and more likely to leave education early. Primary Schools are generally good, but in deprived areas more than half of secondary schools are rated less than good by Ofsted.

The report also finds a significant difference in the aspirations of girls compared to boys, with girls more likely to believe that regeneration has less to offer them, and to have lower aspirations.

‘We know girls outperform boys throughout school but are paid less as adults. This is a particular issue in many Northern areas where traditional industries have been very male-dominated. It is very important that regeneration strategies tackle this and speak to girls’ aspirations, particularly if the regeneration is focused on industries which are perceived as male.’


The report sets out the importance of giving children clear pathways into the workplace, and how regeneration and education need to be brought together to enable this. In addition to the recommendation above, the report’s nine recommendations include additional funding for local authorities to improve disadvantaged children’s outcomes and life chances; more focus on early intervention; a ‘northern schools programme’ to boost leadership and governance, and Local Enterprise Partnerships working to bring employers and schools together.

You can download the full report from the Children’s Commissioner’s website and read coverage of the report on the BBC, Guardian and ITV.


The future of the Social Mobility Commission

The Growing Up North report used data compiled by the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) and much of its findings echo issues raised by the SMC.

The Education Select Committee has been looking into the Commission, and on 22 March published a report calling for the SMC to be given greater powers, including the power to publish social justice impact assessments on both policy and legislative proposals, and a new delivery body to drive forward social justice initiatives across government and the country.

Robert Halfon, MP, chair of the Education Select Committee, wrote that ‘We need a Commission which has the teeth to undertake objective assessments of the implications for social justice of Government policies’.

The arts have a role in combating disadvantage and increasing social mobility through improving outcomes in education, employability and civic engagement (see our Key Research Findings and Employability Briefing for more on this). We would wholeheartedly endorse the need for government policies – including school accountability systems and funding for local authority provision, which can limit children’s access to the arts – to be looked at through the prism of social justice.