Week in perspective;Briefing;Week in education

29th October 1999 at 01:00
This week... Universities target poor postcodes... Pupils on the move... Kent schools join cross-channel food war

POSTCODES, which have long been used by estate agents to help them value homes, will now be used to help universities and colleges recruit more students from low-income families.

Under a new computerised service launched this week by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, tutors will be able to tell how many people from under-represented socio-economic groups apply, how many receive offers and how many enrol.

The new service employs the same system already used by the further and higher education funding councils to allocate a 5 per cent funding bonus for every student recruited from under-represented groups.

In future, institutions will receive an analysis - through the Internet - which breaks down the population according to 40 postcode types, enabling them to identify poorer housing estates, inner-city neighbourhoods and remote rural areas, where access to further and higher education is traditionally low.

Institutions will then be able to work closely with local schools and careers offices to encourage applicants.

The launch of the initiative coincided with the findings of a new study of household income - using postcodes - which named Liverpool as the poorest place in Britain, with nine of the country's 20 poorest postcodes.

The study, by market research group CACI, found huge variations in household incomes. Families with postal addresses in Barbican and Belgravia in central London earned in excess of pound;50,000 a year while, in contrast, 80 per cent of households in Birkenhead, Bootle and Middlesborough survive on less than pound;13,000.

As the link between poverty and under-achievement prompts universities to target disadvantaged groups, a report published today could provide policy-makers with new ammunition to fight disadvantage in schools.

The Government-backed study, by Janet Dobson and Kirsty Henthorne of University College, London (see facing page ) has found many urban primary schools are having to cope with a huge turnover of pupils during the school year. While moving home is the biggest cause of pupil mobility, homelessness, being in a travelling family, unemployment, family break-up, and permanent exclusion from school are all contributory factors.

Education ministers have been keeping a close eye on the research since the problem was first highlighted by Dr Dobson in The TES last year. Schools with high turnover rates face huge difficulties meeting academic targets and gain no recognition for the problems they face in league tables. A final report is due to be published next summer.

Meanwhile, the Government has made further progress towards one of its key election pledges with a further reduction in class sizes in infant schools. New figures show that there were 181,000 infants in classes of 31 or more in England last month - compared with 354,000 a year ago. Ministers have pledged to meet their target of all infants being taught in classes of no more than 30 by 2001.

They are, however, likely to be rather more nervous about a decision by one of the country's biggest education authorities, Kent, to take French meat off the school menu. The move followed reports that French farmers have fed animals with feed containing animal and human excrement. The Government is trying to prevent a full-scale food war with France - and will be watching nervously to see if other councils follow suit.

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