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In the shadow of Rover's despair

HEADTEACHER Roger Perks, whose school is in the shadow of the Longbridge car plant, has torn up the prize-giving speech he was due to deliver this week. Words of encouragement and celebration seemed inappropriate in the light of the announcement by BMW this week that the Rover car group will be broken up.

Instead, the Baverstock school principal will describe how BMW's decision, which is likely to lead to the closure of the Birmingham factory and the loss of 8,000 jobs, will go down in history as the West Midlands' darkest hour.

"I cannot easily describe my feelings of revulsion at such a cynical demolition of our area's greatest employer. We feel completely sold out," he said. "I took assembly this week and asked the children who had parents or relatives working at Rover to put their hands up. My blood ran cold when I saw the result. A mass of hands - more than two-thirds - were raised. Tragedy is looming for so many of these families."

To add insult to injury, a BMW poster advertising a young people's rcruitment evening next Tuesday and boasting of the opportunities the company can offer landed on the head's desk on Monday. The 20 to 30 students who were hoping to take up apprenticeships are confused and demoralised, and one 16-year-old has already had an interview with Land Rover cancelled.

Mr Perks said: "Here we are, telling our pupils to work hard, do their very best, take our advice, go along with Government initiatives such as the extended school day and all will be well. Just as the BMW management told the Rover workforce who, like our pupils, did just that. Now we have to persuade our youngsters to continue to trust us, to have hope and accept that there is some point in gaining these qualifications."

Parents on the Druids Heath estate are already talking about selling up. Mr Perks said: "We are telling people not to be embarrassed about the need to take up free school meals or help with buying uniforms. But we are under no illusion that dealing with this body blow is a massive challenge."

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