It has been a raw week for the Liverpool City Region with regard to education. National statistics have identified Knowsley and Halton boroughs as amongst the lowest-achieving education authorities in the country, on the basis of their secondary examination results. Take out of the frame private schools and selective grammars, and Liverpool, Sefton and Wirral share similarly disappointing examination outcomes. St Helens seems to stand apart in its secondary attainment levels.
I have commented before on Knowsley’s excellent primary provision which is in such marked contrast to its failings at the secondary level. As we know, the borough will shortly offer no schools with “A” level courses. Neighbouring Liverpool is about to face a diminution of its own offer as Fazakerley High School seeks to dump its “A” level courses. Children in such outlying areas will face tremendous – and unnecessary – extra difficulty in trying to access quality post-16 education. Pupils in Speke have already suffered educational deprivation since the Parklands debacle (still, incidentally, costing the council tax payer a fortune!).
This is a major problem for the incipient Liverpool City Region, and will need to be addressed if the Liverpool conurbation is to ensure that all of its youngsters share in both educational and vocational opportunity. Whilst it is clear that many children do get an excellent education locally, including those in the private and selective sectors, it is also the case that the true picture is blurred by the numbers of children who travel from one borough to another for their education (in Knowsley, one third leave the borough daily).
It is axiomatic that successful education and training are the keys to a vibrant and rewarding local economy, as well as nationally vital. It follows that failing education and training hinder the prospects of resuscitating the local jobs market, given that modern jobs – high skills and high wages – require well-qualified people.
One of the major tasks devolved to the soon-to-be-elected metro-mayor is the economic renewal of the city-region. S/he will be obliged to work in tandem with the members of the Combined Authority – i.e. the leaders of the six boroughs within it. Of course, this presents both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is to devise a city-region wide strategy for our economic needs. This will, of necessity, reach into education and training, wherein local government in the area has failed to distinguish itself.
The opportunity, however, is the possibility of showing national government how capable local government can be in meeting local needs. Given enterprising leadership, we can create locally the longer-term circumstances conducive to economic prosperity. The advent of a metro-mayor is the ideal time for local borough-based thinking to be subsumed into the interests of the city-region as a whole. In educational and training terms, that translates into focussing on the interest s of our youngsters regardless of the borough in which they live.
This would require a fundamental shift in thinking within our six boroughs. Just as the travel-to-work area pays no heed to arbitrary borough boundaries, and transport provision – by definition – crisscrosses the city-region, so might educational resources and authority be pooled across the whole conurbation. After all, this would simply be a formal recognition of the current (if ad hoc) provision of education and training. It would also provide a coherent and cost-effective framework for ensuring that all of our children have an equal opportunity to access the groundwork essential for a successful and rewarding life.