Educational achievement in Suffolk is “tale of two counties”

YOUNGSTERS in parts of Suffolk may never realise their full potential due to “educational inequality,” a higher education association has warned.

The University and College Union (UCU) says educational achievement in Suffolk is a “tale of two counties” with marked differences between two constituencies following its newly-released analysis of national data.

Three of the county’s constituencies - Suffolk Coastal, Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds - show above average levels of attainment while the other four - Waveney, South Suffolk, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich and West Suffolk - reveal more people than average with no qualifications.

Those living in Waveney are more than twice as likely to have no qualifications as those in neighbouring Suffolk Coastal - Suffolk’s best performing constituency.

The UCU says its analysis reveals the full extent of the postcode lottery when it comes to educational underachievement in Britain today.

Waveney MP Peter Aldous said: “It doesn’t surprise me. I think it’s a long-term problem. I’m talking very much, largely in the Lowestoft area, I think one has been conscious for a long time there’s been a need to raise educational standards and also aspirations as well.”

He said various things were being done to address the issue, including extra money from the Government next year for nursery places and a new sixth form college in Lowestoft funded by Suffolk County Council.

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He also mentioned how, for a number of years, Suffolk as an education authority had been receiving a below average settlement from the Government which MPs in the county had been lobbying to improve.

Mr Aldous believed socio-economic factors were a consideration when it came to the results, mentioning how in Lowestoft there were high levels of unemployment and deprivation due to the decline of traditional industries which had not been replaced.

Graham White, county secretary for Suffolk National Union of Teachers, who was also unsurprised by the findings, said: “I look at it from a school’s perspective. If you were to look at GCSE results or A-Level results you find there are certain areas that seem to do very well and certain areas that seem to do less well, just in terms of results, and when you look at the social make-up of the area that’s a very good indicator of educational achievement.”

He believed more money needed to be put into the early years age group and 14 to 19 education also needed to be developed.

Mr White believed the Government should abandon the academies and free schools programmes and fund local authority schools and the county council should be offering more support to schools.

County Councillor Graham Newman, cabinet member for children, schools and young people’s services, said: “In Suffolk we are working extremely hard to ensure all young people recieve the very best possible education.

“Our commitment to seeing through the School Organisation Review is key to raising levels of attainment.

“There remains around a 6% gap in achievement between young people in three-tier areas compared to those in two-tier areas. As part of the review, along with our partners, we are spending �60million on improving school environments.

“In Waveney, we are hoping that in the next few months Kirkley High will be confirmed as an accademy, run by a sponsor with an excellent record of improved attainment elsewhere in the region.

“From this September there will also be the new 6th form centre in Lowestoft, which will act as a beacon for further study and a prominent local gateway to higher and further education.

“More generally, where young people need additional support, including in some cases one to one support, to help them reach their full potential this is being provided. Young people are the future so we must support them in every possible way we can.”

Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley said the figures showed even Bury had work to do.

“That’s why I give my full support to West Suffolk College which has grasped better than other colleges that we need to help skill young people to make them fit for the 21st century. But we take nothing for granted and must drive up qualifications across the whole county, otherwise we are going to be out competed and out fought by the Indias and Chinas of this world.”

The UCU ranked the 632 parliamentary constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales according to the percentage of working age people (16 to 64) who have no qualifications.

It said the areas with the lowest levels of qualifications were most likely to suffer from a cocktail of coalition policies that will restrict access to education, such as higher tuition fees and the axing of education maintenance allowances for teenagers.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Suffolk is a tale of two counties when it comes to educational achievement. One with education and the massive personal benefits it can bring and the other without.

“Education is central to our country’s future, yet in some areas thousands of people still have no qualifications. There is a real danger that children growing up in places where it is not unheard of to have no qualifications will have their ambition blunted and never realise their full potential.”

Phill Belden, vice principal of Lowestoft College, said: “Coming to college can be difficult for people who don’t have any qualifications or who have been out of the educational setting for a while so we try to make those first steps as easy as possible to help ease people back in to learning.

“We take some of our courses out in to the community for those people who may not be able to travel to the college or who may not want to come in to an educational setting.”