The countryside’s children are being betrayed

While the government's drive to improve education has transformedschools in London's inner-city, young people in rural areas are largely missed out

Share

There are times, if you happen to reside some way from our great conurbations, when it can feel as if one is living in a parallel universe. Out there, in the exciting world of news, important stories are breaking. A high-profile marriage is (or isn’t) in trouble. Two tennis players are rowing about their boyfriends. The police have done something wrong again.

Searching for a slightly less urban view of national life, one might find the controversy over whether the Queen guitarist Brian May should be allowed to discuss the badger cull on Springwatch, or watch the new series of fantasy house-buying TV programme Escape to the Country.

Then, just occasionally, the reality of life away from cities and large towns can be glimpsed in the national media. Over the past few days, we have learned that by far the most educationally deprived children in the country are poor, white and live in remote rural communities. More evidence of the exodus of young people from the country into towns has emerged. Charities have revealed that small farmers are going out of business at an unprecedented rate. The Government has provided its response to the problem of rural decline. The Planning minister Nick Boles has proposed that it is time to build housing estates on “low-quality, environmentally uninteresting fields”  –  if necessary on the Green Belt.

It is, of course, a perfect Tory solution, encouraging the making of money in the building industry rather than looking at the real crisis, which would require both effort and investment to resolve.

Even for those who have argued for some time that the countryside is getting a poor deal from central government, the latest Ofsted report, published last week, will be a shock. It reveals that, in rural and coastal communities,  a lack of investment, hopeless schools and an inability to attract good teachers have produced a situation where “unseen, disadvantaged children remain unsupported and unchallenged”.

The inner-city schools which, 20 or 30 years ago, were in crisis, are now performing well. It is rural schools which have been neglected and ignored down the years.

The comparative figures tell a grim story of educational inequality. In Tower Hamlets, there may be a problem of deprivation, with 54 per cent of secondary-school children receiving free school-meals, but, of those children, almost 60 per cent achieve five or more GCSEs with grades from A* to C. The equivalent figures in, say, Cornwall and Essex, reveal a smaller percentage of poor children (12.2 and 11 per cent receiving free meals), but appallingly low equivalent GCSE results, at 34.2 and 34.4 per cent – only just over half that of the inner-London borough.

This betrayal of children who happen to have been born far away from cities is easy to explain. There is little concern or investment  from central government. It is not just the lack of housing in some areas that is the problem but a general air of decline and indifference  –  shops and council facilities closing, poor broadband, few business opportunities  – which drives families to the cities where money is being spent and made.

The Government solution seems to be to make the countryside more suburban, to build over its green areas so that the one unquestioned value that it offers, that of space and air, is reduced. In this typically utilitarian, business-led approach,  country people are viewed in the same way as Nick Boles’s fields –  low-quality, environmentally uninteresting.

The countryside has the potential to offer a good life to those – young and old – who live there, but it needs the support and engagement of those in London who make the big national decisions. The problem is not one of boring fields, but of unimaginative politicians and civil servants.

Winner’s strange legacy

No doubt this weekend’s memorial service for Michael Winner was a moving occasion for his friends, but for many of the rest of us it will confirm what a strange business fame can be.

This man, an undistinguished film director, a name-dropping  restaurant critic and occasional star of TV commercials, achieved an odd sort of popularity by being unpleasant.

At the memorial, his friends revealed that it was precisely the fact that he was a cantankerous bully which made him so utterly adorable. Sir Michael Caine explained that when he bullied waiters and friends, he was “testing how far he could go before you disliked him”. He was “a complete pain”, Sir Michael Parkinson fondly recalled, and various other knights of the realm were on hand to reminisce about  his loveable ghastliness.

Is that  the lesson we should all take from the rather strange life of Michael Winner – that the more you bully and whinge, the more you will be admired? I rather hope it doesn’t catch on.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?