Poverty link to student failure

STEVE DOWNES Thousands of children across East Anglia are falling short at school - and where they live could be a key factor. The statistics reveal big differences in exam and test results for seven, 11 and 16-year-olds across the region.

STEVE DOWNES

Thousands of children across East Anglia are falling short at school - and where they live could be a key factor, new figures showed last night.

The statistics reveal big differences in exam and test results for seven, 11 and 16-year-olds across the region.

They add weight to the argument that it is not just who you are but where you are brought up that dictates whether you will fulfil your potential in life.

The figures, published by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), show that youngsters in more affluent areas like South Norfolk and Broadland are soaring ahead of the national and Norfolk averages.

But those living in areas with higher levels of social deprivation, like Norwich and Yarmouth, are trailing some way behind.

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The figures give an insight into the challenges that schools face in trying to boost results in areas long associated with poor performance, low ambition and social and economic deprivation.

For example, at GCSE the percentage of Norfolk children getting the benchmark five or more A*-C grades including English and maths is 44.2pc. In South Norfolk, it rises to 55.9pc, but in Norwich it is as low as 33.9pc.

And while 90pc of seven-year-olds in South Norfolk are reaching the target level two in writing tests, across the county in Yarmouth the figure drops to 77pc.

The statistics back up research reported in the EDP two years ago, which showed that where you live is a compelling factor in whether you will go on to university and into well-paid, skilled careers.

In Yarmouth and Norwich North parliamentary constituencies, one in six young people go on to higher education - compared to almost one in two in some of the more affluent areas.

Fred Corbett, Norfolk County Council's deputy director of children's services, said: “The biggest explanation of differing educational performance across most of the world is social deprivation.

“But it sometimes helps to look even more deeply at particular areas within the districts. On average, Norwich is quite socially deprived, but it also has significant numbers from affluent homes.”

He added that while Norwich's results were generally the lowest in Norfolk, the schools in the city had made “great progress, at a faster rate than other schools” in recent years.

He said factors that affected performance included high levels of low income families, young people from multi-ethnic backgrounds, large families, single parents and poor quality or cramped housing.

But he added: “We don't want any of these factors to be seen as an excuse for poor performance. The worst thing would be for people to be working in a school and saying 'what do you expect?'”

Mr Corbett said it was crucial to ensure that some of the county's best schools were situated in the most challenging areas. He cited plans for academy schools in north Norwich and King's Lynn as examples of this strategy.

And he wanted to see an increasing emphasis on making courses “more relevant” to young people from all backgrounds to keep them interested and engaged in their schooling.

The DfES figures show performances in reading, writing, maths and science tests at age seven, English, maths and science at age 111 and GCSE at age 16.

There are also some eye-catching disparities in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

The percentage of pupils getting five or more A*-C GCSE including English and maths is as high as 59.7pc in South Cambridgeshire and dips to 36.9pc in Fenland.

By the same measure, 53.7pc of youngsters in Mid Suffolk reach the benchmark - compared with a low of 37.4pc in Waveney.

t To see the figures in full, visit www.dfes.gov.uk/rsgateway.