Mind the gap!

Photo by Michael Beck, courtesy of unsplash

Blackpool is a famous seaside town tucked away just 27 miles north of Liverpool and within an hour’s drive from Manchester. It’s famous for many reasons, the promenade, the beach, the tower, the illuminations and of course the glitterball which each year sees the cast and crew from Strictly Come Dancing pay a visit to its famous dance hall.

It’s a fun vibrant town, but like so many in the UK it’s also economically depressed, although you may not see this side of it on a roasting hot sunny day while enjoying an ice cream on the beach

The town has featured prominently in the press recently but there is no glitter or sparkle in the story and sadly the marks awarded put it top of a league table on which it would prefer not to feature.

Analysis of government data by the Education Policy Institute (EPI)  has revealed that impoverished children in Blackpool are an average of 26 months behind their wealthier class mates in the rest of the country by the time they finish their GCSEs.

The data shows that Blackpool has the worst ‘learning gap’ for poor children in the country,

This is the first time since 2007 that the gap between rich and poor educational attainment has widened. The government data informs us that the downward shift began before coronavirus spread to the UK.

Blackpool was followed in this league table by Knowsley in Merseyside and Plymouth, both of which showed learning gaps which just exceeded 24 months. The areas with the lowest gaps were all in London.

Photo by Josh Wilburne, courtesy of unsplash

This is a damning indictment for a Tory government of ten years: a government that talks so much about ‘levelling up.’ How easy is it to level up a country so deeply divided in terms of educational attainment, social deprivation and unemployment? How  can  a member of the G7  and the sixth richest country in the world really hold this claim with any sense of pride or justification?

It’s ironic that our current prime minister is one of twenty prime ministers who went through the hallowed doors of Eton College, where the annual fees are currently £42,501. I might suggest that every school in Blackpool would appreciate this sort of extra funding per pupil.

Since the start of the pandemic the government has recorded as many as twelve U-Turns.

One of the most remarkable was the U-turn on free school meals which came about largely as a result of pressure from the footballer Marcus Rushford.

Last year the Trussell Trust gave out 1.9 million food parcels in the UK. It’s no co-incidence that the  biggest number for a single region was the North West at 252, 165  .The trust shows that usage of food bank has grown by 74% over the last five years.

Poverty, poor living conditions, hunger, high levels of unemployment and social deprivation are all underlying factors which contribute to poor school attainment and Blackpool has all of these but it’s far from alone. Wide areas of the North East, North West, Scotland and Wales all have huge areas of social deprivation and in London many inner- city schools in deprived areas suffer the same issues as Blackpool. This is not the case at Eton College.

For a government to deliver on a promise of levelling up, it first must know intimately what the real issues are and these stem from lack of educational opportunities. Education must be at the heart of levelling up as without education who is going to benefit from any new jobs opportunities and investment, it must be local children and young people who can fill these new jobs with new skills. How can a prime minister from such a privileged elitist position really understand poverty or how to survive on Universal Credit for a week?

Photo by Massimo Virgilio, courtesy of unsplash

It is insulting, humiliating and inappropriate for the leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, to tweet a photo of his five children outside the front door of a private school based in Chelsea. I could almost imagine him saying “Look at me. I can do anything I want with the millions I have made from my Dublin based hedge fund“.  I wonder if he thinks a food bank is something that you could invest in and make money from it!.

So, when next on a tube platform and you hear ‘Mind the gap’, do reflect on where this country is going and if it is the right direction.

My direction is one of fairness, inclusion, equality opportunities and education for all. What’s yours?

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