Schools chief says huge casino would do more for poorest pupils than any DfES initiative. Dorothy Lepkowska reports
It hardly seems the best bet for raising school standards but the opening of a new "super casino" in Blackpool will produce a huge payback for pupils, says the town's director of children's services.
Blackpool is bidding to be the site of one of the Government's controversial new regional casinos, creating 20,000 jobs and strengthening the local economy by almost pound;450 million a year.
David Lund, Blackpool's director of children's services, said: "The success of our pupils is directly linked to the economic health of the town. The casino will be an integral part of shaping the children's agenda here because it will bring jobs, attract visitors and change the face of the town.
"We believe this will have far more impact on the achievement and aspirations of our young people than any of the various educational programmes and initiatives over the past 10 years."
Every year Blackpool attracts seven million visitors, making it the most popular seaside resort in Britain. At 21 square miles, and with a resident population of 151,000 people, it is one of the most densely populated towns outside London.
Most employment is linked to tourism and is low-paid and seasonal. High social deprivation has led to a transient pupil population and above-average teenage pregnancy rates. In some primaries, 60 per cent of pupils move every year.
Children escaping abuse and domestic problems in Lancashire and the North-west often seek refuge in Blackpool. As a result, the town's unitary authority integrated its children's services (bringing together education, health, social services and police) under the Government's Every Child Matters policy more quickly than most.
Academic achievement is low. Last year less than 37 per cent of students gained five Cs or better at GCSE compared to the national average of 53 per cent.
Mr Lund said: "At the moment there is little aspiration or prospects, particularly for girls. For some having a baby is virtually a career choice."
It is hoped that the regeneration plan, known locally as the "Masterplan", will change that mentality. The Government's draft Gambling Bill will allow just one "super casino" in Britain.
Blackpool's bid to be the site of it was boosted by John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, in January when he approved the formation an urban regeneration company, called ReBlackpool, to oversee the changing face of the town.
Proposals include extensive modernising of some of the most popular sites, including the Golden Mile, better trams and a major facelift of the world-famous illuminations to include laser shows.
"The casino, with its hotel and conferencing facilities, will be the catalyst to greater investment. It will improve the quality of the town and the lives of its people," Mr Lund said.
"The plan has the backing of other local authorities in the North-west, which recognise the town's distinct problems.
"People here are proud of their resort but have witnessed the decline over the past few decades with the advent of cheap package holidays abroad.
"They really do want to see the town develop and opportunities for children and young people to improve. With the Masterplan there is a sense of optimism again about the future."