Education International
Education International

UK: New analysis highlights education divide

published 10 August 2011 updated 5 September 2011

Research undertaken by one of EI’s British affiliates, the University and College Union (UCU), has highlighted significant disparities in educational achievement among different areas of the same cities across the nation.

The UCU analysis used Office of National Statistics data from 2010 to rank 632 parliamentary constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales according to the percentage of working age people (16-64) who have no qualifications. The contrasts it comes up with are extreme, revealing ‘two Britains’ divided between the educational haves and have-nots.

In some constituencies, such as Glasgow East and Birmingham Hodge Hill, more than one in three people have no qualifications, compared to just one in 50 in others such as Brent North and Romsey and Southampton North.

The union looked at the overall picture and analysed 21 individual cities and surrounding areas. It discovered many examples of educational haves and have-nots living side by side. For example, people living in Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central are almost twice as likely to have no qualifications compared to people in neighbouring Newcastle-upon-Tyne North.

Of the 20 constituencies with the highest percentage of people with no qualifications, the West Midlands accounts for eight of these, and has four in the top ten.

The study also found a clear east/west divide in London; of the 20 worst performing constituencies in the capital city, three-quarters are in the east. In contrast, a similar proportion of the best performing constituencies are in the west.

In Scotland, Glasgow has three constituencies ranked in the ten worst in Britain for people lacking qualifications. In contrast, all of Edinburgh's constituencies are above average, with fewer than one in ten people without qualifications.

The percentage of people without qualifications was found to vary across Britain. In England 11.1 per cent have no qualifications, in Scotland the figure rose above the 11.3 per cent British average to 12.3 per cent, and in Wales the figure is 13.3 per cent.

The UCU noted that the areas with the lowest levels of qualifications were most likely to suffer from a cocktail of the Conservative government’s policies that it argues will restrict access to education, including the axing of education maintenance allowances for teenagers; the charges of £1,000 a year to study for up to 300,000 adults in receipt of welfare benefits; the tripling of university tuition fees, and the introduction of fees and loans for working adults who want to retrain.

UCU General Secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “There are two Britains living side by side – 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 places thousands of people still have no qualifications. There is a real danger that children growing up in certain areas will have their ambition blunted and never realise their full potential.

“The British government needs to urgently revisit its education policies if we are to really offer improved life chances to all. Introducing fees for people on benefits who wish to study, for example, is incredibly counterproductive. We should be encouraging people to strive for qualifications, not pricing them out.”