Big cities are not the big issue
Jon Slater reports on the Prince's Trust's efforts to pinpoint young
people in disadvantaged areas IF Labour education ministers were asked to name the main difference between them and the Tories, tackling disadvantage would be near the top of the list.
The Government has allocated millions to help schools in deprived areas, but many teachers - particularly those outside the big cities - claim to have seen little of the extra cash.
Although schools will always be able to use more money, the ultimate success of efforts to tackle disadvantage among young people - such as the "Excellence in Cities" programme - depends upon identifying areas where it exists. The number of children on free school meals, unemployment rates and income levels have all been used to pinpoint such areas.
A new report from the Prince's Trust charity attempts to find the hot spots where young people are less likely to succeed and where they face the most difficult transition to adulthood.
Unlike many studies it looks beyond family income. It says five factors most determine disadvantage among young people: low family income; ethnic background; living in care; educational under-achievement; and crime (see box above). In the cases of education, income and crime, they are both the causes and the results of deprivation.
Some of the statistics are stark. For instance, blacks and Asians with A levels are more likely to be unemployed than white people with no qualifications.
The report quotes a survey at Wetherby prison in West Yorkshire where 50 per cent of inmates said their father had spent time behind bars; 20 per cent had children of their own.
Opportunities for young people have become increasingly polarised in recent years. "Inequalities of opportunity have increased for those leaving school and these inequalities are heavily influenced by factors such as poor schooling, family breakdown and local labour markets," the report says.
But the evidence does not fit with the simplistic "north-south divide" so beloved of the media, nor do inner-cities have a monopoly on deprivation.
"Deprivation occurs in rural areas as well as urban," the report says. "Poverty for young people in rural areasis compounded by difficulties in accessing services and work."
The report includes four sets of maps showing deprivation by population; income; and children in care; and education. Combined these suggest a "doughnut" distribution, with a deprived London at the centre surrounded by areas where the needs of young people are relatively low. Deprivation then increases as distance from the capital grows and you reach areas such as the North-east, North-west and Wales.
The map (above) shows educational disadvantage by local authority, drawn up using a combination of GCSE results, absence from school and the proportion of children entitled to free school meals.
Although it suggests that it is city children who suffer the worst educational disadvantage that is not the whole story. As the report says, there are pockets of deprivation within otherwise advantaged areas. Spelthorne, for example, is in Surrey - one of the counties which has the least educational disadvantage. However, it rates as one of the neediest 10 per cent of districts in England and Wales.
In some areas, schools and pupils succeed against the odds. In Bolton, a high proportion of the population is unemployed or reliant on benefit and a significant number of young people are in care, yet it is among the top 50 per cent of authorities when it comes to education.
Different types of deprivation pose different problems. Areas with high numbers of care-
leavers need strategies to smooth these young people's transition to adulthood. Those with high numbers of black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils need to look at ways to improve education and labour-market opportunities for ethnic minorities.
If the Government is serious about tackling disadvantage it must take note. A policy scalpel rather than blunt instrument will be required. That will be music to the ears of those who believe that ministers have concentrated too much on the inner cities.
Copies of "Mapping disadvantage - Young people who need help in England and Wales" are available from the Prince's Trust on 020 8957 5190. A summary of the report can be read at www.princes-trust.org.uk
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Map of educationally disadvantaged hot spots NOT available on this database.