South West suffers from ‘profound’ social inequality, study finds

People in the south west of England face some of the “most profound social and educational divides in the country”, according to a report.

BBC News 

Researchers at the University of Exeter discovered the region suffered from poor exam grades, low wages and limited opportunities.

It said a “lack of impetus for change amongst some leaders” was “harming” the lives of residents.

The government said it was taking “action” to create “well-paid jobs”.

The report looked at data from Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, and was the result of a year-long review.

Prof Lee Elliot Major said he hoped the report served as a “wake-up call”

Prof Lee Elliot Major, who specialises in social mobility and worked on the report, said: “Our evidence demonstrates to central government that levelling up efforts must prioritise the South West.

“Improving social mobility is about ensuring that all people fulfil their potential and lead full lives in the communities they come from.”

Prof Major, based at the University of Exeter, added: “We hope that this will be a wake-up call for a region which faces some of the most profound social and educational divides in the country.”

Prof Sir Steve Smith, an education champion for the government, said the report was “damning and shocking”.

“It lays bare the huge challenges facing the peninsula and makes a compelling case for improving the prospects of future generations,” he said.

Researchers discovered that just 40% of disadvantaged pupils attained a standard pass in GCSE English and Maths in 2019 compared with almost 60% in inner London.

And just 17% of disadvantaged students went on to university in 2018/19 compared with 45% in London.

  • Low earnings and poor pay are common in many parts of the region with four of Devon’s eight districts among the UK’s top 25 low wage “hotspots”
  • Poor mental health outcomes for both children and adults
  • Teacher recruitment, retention and training are challenges for isolated schools
  • Schools have on average lower levels of funding than elsewhere
  • The area has long travel times to pursue further education or work which has been linked to higher drop out rates
  • Fewer professional jobs are available in most areas, which has contributed to a youth exodus

The report made some suggestions to address the challenges:

  • A university-led tutoring scheme targeted to disadvantaged pupils in need of extra literacy and numeracy help
  • School-centred community hubs to provide support for people aged up to 21. These hubs would be coordinated by schools and tailored to specific community needs
  • Flexible post-16 learning, combined with a free 16-19 travel pass, to reduce the cost and risk of pursuing further study and training
  • A greater focus on disadvantage, to close the gap in schools. It includes regional schools commissioners leading a regional drive to instil best practice in schools and academy trusts; and a concerted effort to improve parental engagement

The government said: “We want to fire up the South West’s economic engine and are taking decisive action to spread opportunity and investment, creating well-paid jobs across the region.

“Our landmark Levelling Up White Paper includes targeted investment and support in education and plans to provide more power to local leaders across the south west.

“This is on top of more than £490m for levelling up projects in towns and cities like Bournemouth, Plymouth and Glastonbury, as well as new quality jobs created by the Lithium Recovery Plant in Cornwall.”