Battle is on to halt the decline;Exclusion

19th February 1999 at 00:00
Bulwell is a deprived, if not the most deprived, part of Nottingham and is considered to be in a steady decline, writes Nicolas Barnard.

Sitting on the edge of town, it also has a strong identity - which is why the newly-created Nottingham City Council proposed it for an education action zone. Councillors wryly call it the People's Republic of Bulwell.

It's small for a zone - only 10 schools, including two comprehensives - yet teachers complain there is no communication between schools or with other organisations.

Bulwell, a largely white community with large amounts of social (subsidised) housing, has seen hosts of regeneration projects.

"Co-ordination itself is an innovation," says city education chairman Don Scott when asked about the trailblazing that zones are supposed to do.

That could be why one of the first major events in the zone (theme: The Connected Community) was to bring all 250 teachers together for a day of workshops By the end, teachers might not have cast off their natural scepticism; "We're still not entirely sure what an EAZ is," says one. "We're not sure the Government knows either".

But many were genuinely revelling in meeting colleagues from other schools for the first time "It's amazing how isolated and introspective schools have become," says zone director Mike Thompson, a former IT inspector in the city.

"There are all these things they have to do, like action plans and literacy hours, but they all focus in on the school. Teachers don't get out enough.'' City leaders are acutely aware of the task ahead.

The city took over education only last April but its schools' performance is well below not only the average for all authorities but below that of those with similar levels of deprivation (the city is the 16th most deprived district in England but has the fourth lowest GCSE results).

Nottingham has the worst attendance record in the country, and part of the plan will be to focus on persistent truants - better checks, bleepers for parents and so on. More importantly the city wants to make school attractive for the pupil.

One of Bulwell's secondary schools is failing and due for a fresh start in September. The other has serious weaknesses, as do several of the primaries.

A strong programme of training and professional development for staff is on the agenda.

The county also has historically-low staying-on rates. "The culture of achievement in Notts is not high," says Mr Scott, himself a sixth-form history teacher.

The city also feels its problems were sometimes overlooked by the larger county council. At heart, the zone is about regeneration - it fits in with earlier Single Regeneration Budget bids - and managers are expending a lot of energy to get business on board.

Boots, based in the city, already has long links with city schools; its staff go into class to read with pupils. Rolls-Royce, with a factory just outside Nottingham, is also on board. All 10 heads will join its internal management training course.

Other developments include the usual expansion of teaching assistants and information technology - teachers have already seen both in their classrooms and IT links are planned to community centres.

A more vocational curriculum is also being developed. With a new high-tech business park planned close to Bulwell, the authority is talking with developers about the kind of skills workers will need. Manufacturing and mining have been replaced by service, finance and technology, but education has been slow to catch up.

"We're good at attracting business to Nottingham, but local people aren't getting the jobs," says Marie Lynch, seconded from the planning department to drum up business support. "They go to people with a car that come streaming down the motorway from 30 miles away."


* Nottingham has the joint highest truancy rate in England for secondary pupils.

* Primary truancy rates are more than double the English average.

* Almost one in 100 secondary pupils was permanently excluded in 1997.

* Only 26.1 per cent of GCSE students got five or more A* to C grade passes last summer, the fourth worst performance.

* The England average was 46.3 per cent.

* In key stage 2 test 47 per cent of 11-year-olds achieved the standard expected for their age in English, and 40 per cent in maths.

* The England averages were 64 and 58 respectively.

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