To remove educational inequality we must also give our children a sense of belonging.
Thousands of young people across the country have spent the summer anxiously anticipating exam results. The dramatic disparity between the attainment of white, working-class boys and children from other backgrounds is, as the Prime Minister rightly acknowledged in her maiden speech, one of the most serious problems facing our education, indeed our nation, today.
Whilst this is a complex issue, funding is, of course, a key aspect – particularly among those faced with the ‘double disadvantage’ of low family income and place poverty. However, disparity in education funding is not only evident between working-class and more affluent areas. The amount of state funding a school receives also varies dramatically depending on which part of the country it is in. For example, according to Department for Education statistics, schools in London received £8,587 per pupil in the academic year 2015/16. By contrast schools in York received a mere £4,202. The result of this funding gap is evident.
Back in 2003, the two regions of England with the lowest GCSE attainment were London and Yorkshire. The capital, which has the benefit of the devolved Greater London Assembly, was able to address the issue on a regional basis and instigated the London Challenge – an initiative that offered increased funding, specialised training for teachers and the sharing of best practice. As a result, in both 2014 and 2015 the region with the highest GCSE results was London. Yorkshire and the North East performed the poorest.
Is it any wonder then that the growing number of regionalist political parties – such as the Yorkshire Party and the North East Party – are calling for an end to such funding inequality and the implementation of similar educational ‘challenges’.
There is a second issue that is less tangible yet far more significant. Underfunding, typically affects towns which have suffered industrial decline and whose heritage is all but forgotten. In many of these communities, the local school is the last remnant of a once close knit society – and herein lies the problem.
The issue facing many schools, particularly those in white, working-class areas is that they have lost this sense of belonging. Furthermore, a recent report by the widening participation department at Kings College London found that many white, working-class boys felt they had to hide their identity in order to ‘navigate the world of higher education’.
Industrial decline, the disappearance of work and with it aspiration, has dogged many towns for the past generation. If white, working class boys are to succeed then the financial inequality must be addressed and the wider community must work together to create a positive sense of local identity and give all our children a sense of belonging.
Note: Published in the Daily Mail - 'Our Boys Doomed to a Bad Start in Life' on Tuesday 30th August 2016 and in the Yorkshire Post 'Sense of Local Pride Is Key to Education Achievement' on 31st August 2016.