A BUMPER £24m fund to boost education in the North-East will help put the region’s children on a level playing field with others across the country.

This was the bold boast from education secretary Damian Hinds who visited the area to unveil his eye-catching Opportunity North East programme aimed at driving up standards.

Yet the announcement has been criticised by many, particularly from the opposition Labour party, who have accused the current Government of failing schoolchildren in the region for many years.

According to some, the investment – announced just days after figures revealed that the spending in Northumberland had fallen by £39 per pupil during the current school year – would be a drop in the ocean compared to the cuts made to the sector in recent years.

New fears of further cuts to education in Northumberland surfaced last week after it was revealed that Northumberland County Council (NCC) had agreed to make significant budget cuts by 2022, which coincidentally amounted to a total of £24m.

Reacting to the launch of Opportunity North East, Hartlepool’s MP Mike Hill said: “Of course I welcome this initiative, but it is a bit late in the day for the Tories to start to pretend that they care about the aspirations and ambitions of the people of the North-East.

“The Government has failed our young people time and time again.

“I sincerely hope that this initiative works, but to be honest, I for one won’t be holding my breath.”

Redcar’s MP Anna Turley added: “Whilst the Government’s sudden interest in improving the life chances of our young people is welcome, they cannot disguise the fact that their decisions have left our young people worse off.

“They have pulled away the ladders and made it harder for the next generation to get on, and this new investment will not come close to the support they have already stripped away.”

The £24m investment as part of Opportunity North East is to be split into two categories.

Half will go towards boosting early career training for new teachers in a bid to raise standards in North-East schools, with the other half being invested in improving employment outcomes for students aged 16 plus.

Mr Hinds was accompanied on a visit to Darras Hall Primary School’s new £5.8m building by Wayne Daley, the Conservative cabinet member for children’s services at NCC, who was excited about the launch of the fund, which is due to be in place in 2019.

He said: “This is extremely good news, and a very welcome investment in education in our region.

“We’ve been lobbying Government to get this funding and we are delighted that he came to Northumberland following my invitation.

“We look forward to working with partner authorities and with our own schools to ensure that we gain maximum benefit for children and young people in Northumberland.

“We had positive and detailed discussions with the Secretary of State during his visit to the county as we continue to strive to improve standards and ambition in all our schools.”

Mr Hinds said the investment was launched on the back of findings that the North-East ranked bottom in a lot of education measures.

He said: “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.”