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Undermined, but determined to succeed

THERE was a time when the Staffordshire coalfields could provide families with two of the essentials of life - a job and a house.

The last pit, Hen Heath, closed two years ago, ending a 10-year winding down of the area's mining industry, which kept thousands of people in work.

Now, many houses are impossible to sell because of subsidence caused by the abandoned mine workings underneath.

That sinking feeling even extends to the city's ceramics industry, which employs 51 per cent of Stoke's workforce and has put the Stoke on the map for the manufacture of toilets and luxury china. Royal Doulton is one of a number of Stoke's pottery manufacturers to shed jobs in recent years.

Unemployment stands at 4.2 per cent but there are pockets where it is much higher and many new jobs are poorly paid. In 1997, the proportion of primary pupils entitled to free school meals was 31.8 per cent, compared to 22.8 per cent nationally.

A spokesman for Stoke-on-Trent City Council said: "The problem is we have a low salary base and, in any case, the city relies too heavily on pottery as a source of employment."

The problem of social exclusion among the city's young people is being tackled with pound;35 million in Single Regeneration Budget money aimed at 14 to 25-year-olds which was awarded last week.

The city has also been given assisted area status by the Government, which will help companies set up factories -- some of them on the 275 hectares of spare land designated for industrial use.

As the city waits for these initiatives to bear fruit, its schools serve a "community in which educational aspirations evinced by a very low staying-on rate, have been limited,"says OFSTED.

At GCSE, 32.5 per cent of local children got five A-C grades in 1998, compared to 44.7 per cent nationally. The number of seven-year-olds reaching level 2 in maths and English is about 3 per cent below the national average, although the gap has narrowed from about 5 per cent in 1995.

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