Deprived of an equal opportunity

9th February 2001 at 00:00
I WRITE with reference to Alan Tuckett's interesting article entitled 'Countryside loses out in learning vision' (TES, January 19). The article referred to three recently released but separate policy documents and, in particular, the two White Papers on Urban and Rural.

I have long since thought that the division of rural and urban in such ways does create a feeling that they are very different. Yet they both have many common issues and concerns.

Whilst as a rural dweller, I certainly welcomed much in the Rural White Paper, there is also much to be commended in the urban. Yet there is a danger that common challenges will be dealt with differently and not sufficiently joined up.

The article highlighted this in terms of learning. The writer suggested that, as there was little reference to learning as such in the rural version, there was a danger that learning is seen as merely an urban issue. Widening participation, tackling disaffection and extending opportunities for learning are equally important to both rural and urban, but rural deprivation can so easily be underestimated.

When the traveller drives through rural landscapes and admires the beauty of the countryside, it is so easy to believe that deprivation and lack of opportunity do not exist. However, they are there aplenty.

The current extreme downturn in agricultural fortunes is creatin great strains. Many workers associated with such traditional rural industries are facing unemployment. They need re-training, but often lack the means to travel to centres of population even if public transport is available. It can be difficult to show this deprivation. Often villages contain a relatively affluent commuter population and their incomes boost average levels, making postcode analysis an unsatisfactory way of identifying need. Recent discussions on the need for Objective 2 funding have highlighted this, often to the significant disadvantage of rural locations.

As a college we have invested heavily in reaching out to such learners in rural locations. We believe we have been innovative. The provision can be, and generally is, more expensive than the norm, but is necessary. We have also worked closely with the Regional Development Agency, government departments, the Further Education Funding Council, training and enterprise councils and others in this area of work. As a specialist college for the land-based sector our role is clear.

I welcomed the article in bringing attention to rural learning needs. This is not a "them and us" situation. If we are truly to aspire to the new national learning agenda, then we must tackle all areas of deprivation, rural and urban.

Professor John Moverley Principal Myerscough College Preston, Lancs

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