Catch 22 on catchment

There is a new private housing development in the north of the city and it provides a stark illustration of some of the problems that Hull's politicians and administrators have to deal with.

"Yes the houses are in my ward," explains Cllr Carl Minns. "Knocking on the doors during the election, the big issue was made clear. They are happy for their kids to go to Hull primary schools but they've told me that as soon as their kids have reached secondary age they're going to move to the East Riding because 'We want a good education for them'.

"That perception of a bad secondary education is driving socially mobile people out of the city, and they're taking money with them and creating empty classrooms. As far as the parents in Kingswood are concerned, I've got five years to get things right."

Carl Minns is the Liberal Democrat cabinet member for lifelong learning and represents the Kingswood ward. He has held the education portfolio for only a matter of weeks but appreciates the size of his task. He is surprisingly chipper.

Many East Riding villages and leafy suburbs were once part of Hull but in 1996 it was made a separate unitary authority. Tightly drawn boundaries mean that wealthier areas are now part of East Riding and their loss affects Hull's council tax revenues. The figures are stark: 80 per cent of properties are in the A and B council tax bands; 0.03 per cent are in the top H band.

The boundaries are so tight that two of Hull's secondaries - Sir Henry Cooper and Sydney Smith - actually stand on East Riding land, yet the pupils come from the lower end of the economic spectrum.

"Yes our GCSE results would be better if we had the suburbs," admits Minns. "But that would only mask the problem. Low achievement would have to be tackled in any event".

Conservative education spokesman Andrew Percy, only 22, and a man with a strongly caring reputation, agrees and thinks that the problem of low achievement is unique to Hull. It has much to do with a languid economy and bleak expectations. He wants to see more agencies working with families to cut down truancy figures. There are few successful role models in families, he says, and too many parents still wonder what is so wrong with staying off school for a day or two. He is concerned that Year 11 pupils are dropping out of school and their behaviour is being copied by pupils in Years 9 and 10.

Bryan Bradley is the Labour group's spokesman on education. His party has been in charge of the city since 1945 - apart from two years 1969-71 - until the Lib Dems took over in May.

"We need new blood to give the city a buzz but our position in the league tables isn't helping recruitment," he says.

"We have families in Hull where parents and grandparents haven't worked, so there is no wonder that some children see no point in going to school."

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