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

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

 

Political satire is funny, but it also causes cynicism and apathy

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links