A MULTI million pound programme to tackle the issues holding young people back in North East communities will be launched by the Government today.

Education secretary Damian Hinds is in the region today to launch the £24m Opportunity North East initiative which aims to boost social mobility and raise aspirations for children.

He will also challenge employers and universities to seek out and nurture the region's talent, saying: “Too many young people from the North East are missing out. We need everyone to work together to put this right.”

Government figures show that the North East has especially highly performing early years settings and primary schools, but relative underperformance at secondary and beyond and from all communities back and that can risk areas feeling “left behind”.

Fewer 18-year-olds attend the country’s top universities than those from any other part of the country and the region has one of the highest proportions of young people not in education, employment or training after year 11.

Opportunity North East will try to address those issues by investing £12 million in targeted approaches to improve the transition from primary to secondary school and improve outcomes for pupils post 16 and invest the same amount in improving teacher training.

It will also work with secondary schools and colleges to encourage young people to consider university, degree apprenticeships and other high quality technical education options and work with businesses to improve job prospects for young people across the region.

During his visit later today, at a roundtable discussion in Gateshead, Mr Hinds is expected to challenge education experts, head teachers, business leaders and university leaders by asking each group what more they can do to “raise aspirations among all working class communities, including white British disadvantaged children”.

He will add: "Talent and potential are evenly spread, but opportunities sometimes aren’t. With Opportunity North East I am going to work with schools, colleges, businesses and universities – including those beyond the area – to redress the balance.

“There are today too many education measures on which the North East is listed ninth in the list of nine English regions. It doesn’t have to be like that. In fact the North East has a lot of really outstanding education – especially so at primary level. The job now is to spread that through more of the secondary level and beyond.

“It’s absolutely right that we challenge ourselves to do things like increasing access to university for young people from black and minority ethnic communities but we must remember that disadvantage is not limited to a single group.

“White British disadvantaged boys are the least likely of any large ethnic group to go to university. We need to ask ourselves why that is and challenge government, universities and the wider system to change that.

“It’s vital that we do this to make sure that no part of our country feels as though it has been left behind, and that every community feels like this is a country that works for everyone.”

The Government said today's announcement is part of its continued drive to improve education and boost productivity in the North and follows on from investment in the Northern Powerhouse strategy.

It has support from business and education leaders across the region.

Edward Twiddy, chief innovation officer at Durham-based Atom bank, said: “Atom bank is delighted to offer its wholehearted support to this exciting and very welcome initiative.

"As a business with national ambitions but founded and headquartered in the North East, Atom is determined to be a positive influence across the region. We are especially focused on enhancing opportunities and education for young people growing up in the region.

“Atom is already the Prince’s Trust lead partner for STEM in the North East as well as establishing many research and training links with the region’s universities. The Secretary of State’s decision to establish Opportunity North East is a huge opportunity to change the future for hundreds and thousands of young people in the region and ensure that they have the chance to meet their own– and the region’s– full potential.”

Nick Hurn, head teacher at Cardinal Hume Secondary School, Gateshead, said: “We have some fantastic leaders, teachers and young people in the North East who I know will fully embrace and use the enhanced resources and support that this transformational strategy will provide. I cannot wait to get started. ”

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has also welcomed the announcement.

He said: “We have some fantastic schools in the Tees Valley that are driving up standards so more young people develop the knowledge they need to succeed, and attain the skills our businesses need to thrive. We’re working hard to develop 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. Working with local authorities and business leaders, we will ensure our young people are given every opportunity to fill the high-quality jobs of tomorrow.”