01Policy priority 1: Improve the educational attainment and ambition of young people across South Yorkshire

  • Despite the office’s lack of direct powers in this domain, use the mayor’s profile to champion efforts that raise educational attainment and ambition in young people.

  • Promote initiatives such as the Children’s University and Sheffield Futures, and ensure that young people across all of South Yorkshire can access similar programmes.

In 2020, the SYMCA established the South Yorkshire Skills Advisory Network, whose goal is to better align the skills demanded by employers with the skills taught to employees in the local labour market.

In August 2021, the SYMCA became one of the last combined authorities to take control of its own devolved adult education budget, fully funding those 19 years of age or older to obtain the skills necessary for various employment or further learning opportunities.

And in December 2021, the Department for Education provided £12m for the establishment of an employer-led South Yorkshire Institute of Technology (IoT). The IoT aims to meet technical skills gaps in STEM fields (such as construction, health care and engineering) and will have branches in all four local authorities.

While continuing to pay attention to adult skills, the mayor of South Yorkshire also needs to expand his or her focus to children’s skills and ambitions. Each local authority in the SYMCA performs below the national average in school achievement.1 Barnsley and Doncaster, in particular, have large numbers of educationally deprived areas (Figure 2).

Figure 2: School-level deprivation in the local authorities of the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority

Distribution of the children and young people subdomain of education and skills deprivation among lower-layer super output areas (LSOAs) in the SYMCA in 2019. LSOAs in decile 1 (as measured across England) are the most deprived; LSOAs in decile 10 are the least deprived.

Note: The children and young people subdomain of the measure of education and skills deprivation includes measures of attainment in Key Stages 2 and 4; of secondary school absence (both authorised and unauthorised); of staying on in education past the age of 16; and of entry into higher education.
LSOAs are small, contiguous areas that have roughly the same population; there are around 33,000 such LSOAs in England, with a mean population of roughly 1,500-1,600. Only data for England are available.

Source: Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (2019).

The mayor, like other metro mayors, will not have any direct say over school-level education; school-level education has not been devolved to mayoral authorities, and local authorities retain control over their own schools.

But the mayor should use the high-profile nature of his/her position to champion the overall improvement of educational outcomes across the region. For instance, this could include:

  • Facilitating the exchange of experiences among school leaders across the SMYCA, so as to establish best practices, identify common difficulties, and discuss ways to improve the performance of schools in each local authority. Although it might be difficult to redistribute material resources across the SYMCA, the non-material resources mentioned can be replicated and adapted, often at very low cost.
  • Promoting the Children’s University (CU), a charity that aims to foster a lifelong love of learning in children. Branches of the CU exist in Doncaster, Rotherham, and Sheffield, but not in Barnsley, and there are far fewer activities affiliated with the CU in Barnsley (fewer than five) than in similarly-sized Doncaster (more than 30).2
  • Championing and expanding organisations such as the recently downsized Sheffield Futures, which provides mental health support and career counselling to young people, and initiatives such as Levelling up Futures in Sheffield, which aims to develop new ways to make children and young adults from all backgrounds (in Sheffield) ready for employment. Such services should be made available to all students in South Yorkshire, and an audit of the efficiency and effectiveness of these programmes should be undertaken to figure out how best to expand them to cover all four local authorities.


  • 1 For example, 47 per cent of students in England achieved at least a grade 5 in both their English and maths GCSEs in 2019, but only 42 per cent of students in Barnsley, 39 per cent of students in Sheffield, 34 per cent of students in Rotherham, and 33 per cent of students in Doncaster did so.
  • 2 A small evaluation of the CU between 2014 and 2016 showed that Year 5 and 6 students in schools that took part in the CU made two months’ more progress in mathematics and reading than students in other schools. A larger evaluation, including of schools in Rotherham, is currently underway, and a report is expected in 2024.