Bernard Ginns: LSE economist lays bare brutal facts of failing schools

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i OFTEN hear business leaders complain about the education system in Yorkshire.

They grumble about the lack of skills and awareness in young people leaving schools and colleges. But however exasperated they might feel, they usually make their comments in fairly diplomatic terms.

Perhaps this is because they recognise they have to live and work in the same area as the people responsible for educating our children.

Last week, I listened to an assessment of our education system that was so brutal and frank that it draw gasps from those present.

It was delivered by Tim Leunig, an economist teaching at the London School of Economics. And it was astonishing.

This is the same man who co-authored a controversial report arguing that people in cities like Bradford, Liverpool and Sunderland should move South because many parts of the North are beyond regeneration.

Dr Leunig, who was speaking at Leeds Civic Hall at Thursday’s IPPR North conference, said: “I did get some death threats when I published that paper.

“Of the five people who called me a paedophile, none of them could spell it.

“It does say something about real genuine people who have been failed by the state and by schools and who are just desperate and do not see any real prospects.

“It was a very pessimistic paper and I’m pessimistic today because the biggest determinant of income is human capital; it’s skills, it’s experience, its qualifications.

“We know those are not spread evenly across the country. The main reason Rochdale is poorer than Reading is because people in Rochdale are much more likely to have skills and experience that make them poor wherever they live.”

Dr Leunig told the audience he was from Chatham in the Medway Towns; he passed the 11-plus and went to Oxford University, it was clear he wasn’t going back.

Medway, like Barnsley, suffers from selective skill migration, said Dr Leunig. But when people leave Medway and take their skills with them, they stay in the South East, because they have a huge economic powerhouse on their doorstep. Medway benefits from the spillover effect, but places like Barnsley and Rochdale don’t, added the economist.

“If cities outside of the London area are serious about doing their best for their future and they take seriously this human capital agenda, then they need to be working really well with the people who are most likely to stay.

“We know that people who are least likely to migrate are the people from relatively poor backgrounds. And here, bluntly, schools in places like Leeds are failing dramatically.”

At national level, children born in the bottom household income bracket have a 32 per cent chance of getting five A-Cs at GCSE level. London does better: its poorest children have a 44 per cent chance of getting good GCSEs.

“If you are poor, you want to have your kids at school in London. You certainly don’t want them to be at school in Leeds. You only have a 24 per cent chance, if your parents are poor, of getting good GCSEs if you’re in Leeds.”

Poor children in Sheffield and Bradford fare the same at 24 per cent. Those in Manchester and Liverpool fare slightly better at 29 per cent. The level in Sunderland is 26 per cent, while in Newcastle it is 22 per cent.

“If any of you in the audience are responsible for educating any of these children in any of these towns then I think you should hang your heads in shame.

“Because if Hackney can do it, if Redbridge can do it, if Enfield can do it, these are not areas of huge advantages compared to Leeds or Sheffield or Newcastle; if they can do it, anywhere can do it.

“Schools in this area should hold their next inset day in a high-performing school in Hackney and learn what they are doing.

“If you are running education in one of these cities then you should be deeply ashamed, because you have betrayed your cities and you have betrayed your young people growing up in your cities.”

Cue stunned silence, a few uncomfortable glances and then a smattering of applause from some sections of the audience.

Afterwards, I spoke to Neil McLean, chairman of Leeds City College and chairman of the Leeds city region local enterprise partnership.

He said there has to be “huge concern” over the figures, from the point of view of both the children concerned and the wider economy.

The Yorkshire Post revealed yesterday that he is working on plans for a new technical academy, specialising in providing vocational education to 14-year-olds and above. That should give some hope where, at the moment, there is little.

@bernardginns