” … the biggest problems are often found by the sea: coastal towns are among the most deprived and one, Jaywick in Essex, tops the league. The Office for National Statistics rates Ryde third on its index of deprived mid-sized seaside towns.
Why do kids in seaside towns do so badly? That’s the question Mr Hoare was, rightly, trying to raise.
Economics is a good place to start. The industries, primarily tourism, that used to sustain jobs and relative prosperity in many seaside towns have faded and not been replaced. It’s a sad fact that poor parents have children who are more likely to grow up to be poor adults.
But poverty doesn’t automatically mean poor outcomes for kids. There are poor parts of London where children do much, much better than those in places like Blackpool and Great Yarmouth and Weston-super-Mare.
Another factor is isolation: many of these places are quite hard to get to. Brighton may have a (sometimes) quick rail link to London, but many seaside towns have poor public transport links, a significant barrier for people who don’t or can’t drive.
Isolation is one reason many seaside towns are relatively ethnically homogenous: they’re generally whiter than other comparably-sized towns elsewhere in England.
Isolation has many consequences, some easier to define than others. There’s the economic difficulty for people who live in isolated towns not being able to commute to higher-paid jobs elsewhere. There’s the challenge of drawing highly-skilled people from elsewhere to work by the sea, particularly in schools: the excellent Teach First, which places high-flying graduate teachers in struggling schools, is increasingly focusing on coastal towns.
The lack of good, well-paid jobs also means that seaside kids will eventually face a stark choice: stay at home and stay poor, or move away.
That’s often a harder choice than it looks, because physical isolation can lead to mental isolation. If neither you nor any of the people you know regularly leave your town to see other places, it’s that bit harder to imagine yourself moving away to work or study. The lack of aspirational role models for poor coastal kids is an important part of the under-explored story of working-class culture and its role in social immobility.
Few politicians are willing to say so explicitly, but part of the reason poor white kids stay stuck in poor seaside towns is a lack of ambition. Not personal ambition so much as social ambition. Unlike middle-class kids and the children of many first, second and third-generation immigrant groups, poor white coastal kids don’t grow up surrounded by people like them who hope and even expect to get a degree and a professional job.
Parents have a role too. Teachers like Paul Phillips, head of Weston College in Weston-super-Mare report that in towns like his, some parents just don’t want their kids to move away and so discourage them from higher education. Such feelings are partly driven by that physical isolation: who can blame someone for not relishing the prospect of their children going to live somewhere that takes a long, long time to get to?
It’s become commonplace among politicians to talk about social mobility and some, including Theresa May, are alive to the fact that the group that’s in greatest need of support here is what used to be called the white working-class. Their children are less likely than any other, including non-white kids of equal poverty, to get good exam results and go on to university.”