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THE BREAK-UP of the Rover car group is a tragedy for the West Midlands - 9,000 jobs are at stake in Longbridge, Birmingham, alone. It is also a timely reminder of the limits to which schools can raise performance in isolation from their communities.

Roger Perks, headteacher of Baverstock school, where two-thirds of pupils have relatives working for Rover, described the news as a "body blow". He now faces an uphill struggle to convince the young people in his school that qualifications still matter and that hard work will bring its rewards.

The areafaces a tough future, though it can expect some Government help to create new jobs. But, as Labour repeatedly pointed out while in opposition, in some areas of Britain unemployment has become a cursed family heirloom, passed down from one generation to the next.

It is not enough for ministers to say that poverty is "no excuse for failure". If the Government is to meet its own education targets, it needs to tackle the social ills - unemployment, poor housing and crime - that deprive young people of hope and can make them virtually unteachable.

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