Poverty of data;Leading Article;Opinion;News amp; Opinion

3rd December 1999 at 00:00
ONCE again a TES analysis shows local authority areas with apparently similar levels of social deprivation achieving widely different results. There are, of course, more differences between areas than can be represented by free meals. Disadvantage may be easier to overcome in a deprived but stable population, for instance, than in one that is equally poor but mobile or has a high proportion of non-English speakers.

But some of the poorest areas with the highest proportions of ethnic minorities, such as Tower Hamlets, Newham and Hackney, feature in our list of authorities doing considerably better than those with fewer free school meals - while some of the worst performers seem far from deprived.

This is a fairer way of comparing authorities than the raw results, and more likely to reveal underperformance. But it raises more questions than it answers. Are the social differences which are not taken into account by a free meals index important? If so, what are they? Or do councils have an impact by what they do - or fail to do? And why are three-quarters of the underachieving areas on this analysis north of Birmingham? Is it poverty that makes the difference or poor prospects?

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