Can anyone really be surprised that among the worst districts for social mobility identified by Alan Milburn’s Social Mobility Commission are some of the wealthiest areas in Britain? Ranked out of 324 districts in England West Berkshire comes in at 265, Cotswold at 268, Herefordshire 271, Chichester 287 and West Somerset bottom at 324.
Surely it can’t really come as that much of a shock given how governments of both colours have thrown educational resources at ‘deprived’ areas. It might look good politically to sprinkle extra resources on places which the public associates with deprivation, but it rather overlooks the fact that while some areas of the country have high overall wealth there are plenty of low-income families who inhabit them. If you are living in the Cotswolds and struggling to make ends meet, you never had much of an education yourself and your local comprehensive isn’t up to much, it doesn’t help your children’s education that you have living among you some wealthy London commuters. Chances are that your children have never even met their children, the latter being scooped off every morning by Range Rover to a private prep school.
The government of which Alan Milburn was a member bears its own share of responsibility. The early academies – however good an idea they were in themselves – had nothing to offer children of low-income families in the Cotswolds, the South Downs or any other area thought of as being middle class. They were built only in tough, urban areas. The Coalition was no different – thanks to the Pupil Premium it concentrated resources even further in areas which came high up in measures of deprivation. In 2011, per pupil funding of schools in the highest-funded area, Tower Hamlets, was nearly twice as high as that in the lowest, Leicestershire (the latter, by the way, excludes the city of Leicester, which runs its own schools – it is the rural areas around). Live in Tower Hamlets and not only do you get a better-funded state education, the employment opportunities on your doorstep are far greater than in, say, pork pie Melton Mowbray.
The government’s new national funding formula for schools irons out the differential a little bit, but not by much. In 2016/17, per-pupil funding in Tower Hamlets was £6906, compared with £3991 in the lowest-funded area, Wokingham. Trouble is, given the political row over the new national funding formula, how would a government ever stop the hugely favourable treatment of ‘deprived’ areas? For the foreseeable future the most deprived people in the country will continue to be not those who live in deprived areas but the poor neighbours in wealthy districts.