Knowsley had an “accidental birth”, as one former council official described it. The borough was created through the merger of several Lancashire districts in 1974 to form the metropolitan district of Merseyside.
While the boundaries made sense to Whitehall bureaucrats, they left Knowsley with barely any middle-class population. Unlike Sefton, which scooped the affluent areas of Crosby, Formby and Southport – now home to millionaire Premier League footballers – Knowsley was handed Prescot and a safari park. This disparity has made the job of raising results all the more difficult.
The borough suffers from the same “doughnut” effect as other relatively small urban authorities in disadvantaged areas like Hull, which have also found themselves at the bottom of the national GCSE league tables.
Aspirant parents look beyond the invisible lines of borough boundaries to educate their children, rejecting secondary schools at the centre of the doughnut in favour of those in authorities in the ring surrounding it.
As Tony McGuinness, headteacher of All Saints Catholic High School in Kirkby, told TES, Knowsley suffers from a “grammar-type” effect, with the top 25 per cent of pupils often leaving the area to attend secondaries in Sefton, St Helens and Liverpool. Overcoming this significant “leakage” is the council’s biggest challenge.
The need for better skilled young people has never been greater, as Knowsley is experiencing a boom, having successfully attracted scores of small and medium-sized businesses to the area.