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Training key to saving inner cities

Education and training can transform inner-city areas, according to a report published this week. The audit of education and training in London argues that a co-ordinated effort by schools, colleges, higher education and industry could help regenerate the economy.

Researchers at Greenwich University made a string of recommendations about improving skill levels in Thames Gateway, which consists of 10 London boroughs and a district of Essex. Their research demonstrates how such an area could be regenerated.

School results in Thames Gateway are worse than in many other areas of England, but are improving rapidly. Thirty-seven per cent of pupils leave school with five higher-grade GCSE passes compared with the national average of 44 per cent. The staying-on rate post-16 is below the national average, as is the drop-out rate after one year in the sixth-form. FE students are more likely to be on full-time courses than elsewhere because of high unemployment. But another reason for this is the local commitment to education and training. Adult education is particularly valued in the Thames Gateway area.

Now community leaders from other areas are examining the research to see what changes they could make in their schools, colleges, training and enterprise councils (TECs), and universities, to ensure that local needs are met.

The report says TECs will be the prime mobilisers for regeneration. An education and training strategy would need to address all the stages in creating a skilled workforce. Any proposals would need to:

* raise achievement in schools, including offering vocational courses as an entitlement for all at GCSE level;

* increase participation of 17-year-olds - diversifying the courses offered in sixth forms and offering more Modern Apprenticeships, particularly for those who have improved their qualifications at 17 ;

* raise expectations of what adults can achieve, creating routes to ensure that they can progress - adults should be entitled to core skills training relevant to their career aspirations;

* develop an innovation-centred business culture - broadening the concept of training, to provide real support even to small firms;

* improve access to higher education, creating new sites - investing in research and technologica l development by companies;

* encourage highly-skilled people to move into the area and stay, by improving public transport, the local environment and culture;

* understand more about the area, its populations and economies - regeneration may involve breaking down the area into zones that share the same characteristics.

The Thames Gateway suffers great social and economic deprivation. Its people are less likely to hold a university qualificat ion than other Londoners. Some pockets exist where less than 5 per cent of a community is highly qualified - Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets, whites in Barking and Dagenham and African-Caribbeans in Tower Hamlets and Hackney.

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