Friday, 20 November 2015

Expecting more for our town

In what is fast becoming a conclusion that is as self-evident as the religion of the Pope or the woodland habits of bears last week the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) produced their five-yearly review focussing on whether Britain has become a fairer place in the intervening period since their last look at our nation.

Whilst their report shows that there have been ‘winners’ in that period there have also been significant losers.

Perhaps the main headline of their report is that whilst Chinese and Indian pupils perform better than other ethnicities at school Bangladeshis and Pakistanis have seen the biggest improvements in educational outcomes.

The worst performing students across the board? White pupils, especially boys, from poorer backgrounds.

The truth is of course there is absolutely no surprise in the EHCR’s report, professionals have been highlighting the trend for some time.

In December last year OFSTED produced their annual report for 2013/14 for the East Midlands. The executive summary of that document was direct when it said ‘White British children from poor families achieve much less well than others’.

If that message isn’t quite crystal clear enough OFSTED went on ‘Levels of deprivation and unemployment are high in the former coalfield areas (OFSTED’s emphasis), which include… parts of Leicestershire.’

Parts of Leicestershire? I wonder where could they possibly be talking about?

I am hugely proud to live in Coalville and privileged to represent Whitwick and Thringstone at County Hall but let’s be frank. What sort of reputation do we have outside of our immediate area?

How many times have us Coalvillians heard jokes about having six fingers? How often do we hear comments about ‘Coalvile’? For heaven’s sake our town even gets labelled that way on road signs.

Even in the corridors and meeting rooms at County Hall the unintentional, I’m sure, ridicule continues. As long as I serve on the Council I will never forget the comment of a colleague, on record, who represents an area not ten miles away that ‘he didn’t know where Coalville was’. Would anyone make the same comment of Melton Mowbray or Market Harborough? I doubt it.

But we in Coalville are also partly to blame.

I was born and raised in Thringstone and during my entire childhood I was told regularly that ‘education doesn’t matter’. I know I wasn’t alone in that regard.

In our areas of deprivation, and Coalville still has some of the most deprived areas in the region, just how many children are being given that self-same message today?

We must do so much more. Leicestershire’s ‘former coalfield areas’ do have some outstanding schools but our expectations of them have to be at least as high as those in the affluent parts of the county. Without being so the gap will never close.

The aspirations of all parents must be for their children to do every bit as well as those in Market Bosworth or Ashby, and a belief that they can.

Let’s be brutally honest. No one is going to raise Coalville out of being in that losing demographic unless we do so ourselves.

Our town is great but we can be so much better. We all owe it to our children; councillors, professionals and parents to work harder on closing the attainment gap.

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