THE PRIME Minister is right. There are pockets of social deprivation in London and the South every bit as bad as those in the North. But the geographical pattern revealed by The TES's analysis of GCSE results (page 8) suggests schools in the post-industrial areas have a far steeper hill to climb when it comes to adolescent achievement.
The list of authorities where average GCSE performance was far below that of areas with similar levels of free school meals reads like a roll of remembrance for those once-prosperous pit, pottery, steel-making or shipbuilding towns and cities. Four out of five of the authorities performing far below their statistical equivalents are in the northern half of England. Almost four out of five of the authorities scoring much higher than similar or more affluent areas are in the southern half, as are the majority of the most rapidly-improving authorities.
A similar TES analysis of key stage 2 results showed no such geographical split. Teachers in areas of severe depression clearly can succeed against formidable odds, particularly when children (and their parents) can be influenced by school values. But older children from equally poor backgrounds are likely to be affected by unequal social and economic expectations.
Where a dominant local industry once employed all school-leavers regardless of qualifications; where children grow up in families in which no one works; and where there are no decent jobs, however well you succeed at GCSE, educational expectations are likely to be low.
Contrast that with the expectations in, say, Hackney or Southwark. Statistically, these are even more deprived than many northern authorities. But here work is almost guaranteed to every school-leaver with a few skills. And parents, many of whom will themselves be in work, see the importance of qualifications in the modern business world.
To succeed in the depressed areas laid waste by the shortsightedness of previous governments, teachers must pass on, not just skills and certificates, but also the vision and confidence to seek a better future.
Mr Blair promised schools support as well as pressure. The best support he could give to the teachers, parents and pupils of these deprived areas is a greater share of the prosperity enjoyed in the South. What they need is hope.