Heatwave: but part of the East Anglian coast contains some of England's poorest-performing schools: Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Ukip does well in areas with failing schools

Great Yarmouth, Norwich and Waveney all fall in the area of East Anglia where Ukip recorded its best results in local elections. They also contain some of the country’s worst schools.

Polls show that low educational attainment and a feeling of being “left behind” are common among Ukip voters. A 2013 YouGov survey found that over half of Ukip voters had left school at 16, compared to 37 per cent of all voters. They were also half as likely as the average voter to go to university: just 13 per cent have a degree. This feeling of falling behind could spread to the children of Ukip voters, too: many of Britain’s worst-performing schools are found in the party’s strongholds.

Failing schools used to be concentrated in the inner cities but this has changed. Late last month, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission published findings showing that disadvantaged pupils in inner London are 21 percentage points more likely to achieve five GCSEs, including English and maths, at grade C and above than those elsewhere in England. And this is not just the “London effect”: the report also noted “improvements in other large cities across England, such as Birmingham and Manchester”.

In the past 15 years, efforts to improve education have given priority to big cities, through schemes such as London Challenge and Excellence in Cities. Both academies and the Teach First programme, which encourages top graduates to teach in struggling schools, were designed with the inner cities in mind.

Away from England’s biggest cities, the picture is different. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, recently described pupils in coastal areas as “invisible”. Take Great Yarmouth, a coastal town in Norfolk. Here, 47 per cent of all pupils are at schools that Ofsted describes as “unsatisfactory” or in need of improvement. Five years ago, 33 per cent of pupils attended such schools. Compare this to London, where 16 per cent of pupils are in schools that are either unsatisfactory or require improvement, a fall from 29 per cent in 2009.

Last month, the Department for Education named the areas with the worst GCSE results. The three poorest performers – Great Yarmouth, Waveney and Norwich – are all in East Anglia. In 2013, less than 47.5 per cent of the pupils in these three areas gained five GCSEs, including English and maths, at grade C or above.

The poor quality of state education supports Ukip’s wider argument that outside our cities, large parts of the country have been neglected. “We’re left out of everything,” says Matthew Smith, a county councillor and Ukip’s parliamentary candidate for Great Yarmouth. “It could be schools, it could be policing, it could be hospitals. Everything seems to boil down to being left out and forgotten. We’re at the end of the line and no one’s interested in us.” The Conservative MP for Great Yarmouth, Brandon Lewis, also refers to the sensation of being at the “end of the line”: clearly, the notion resonates.

Such feelings have driven Ukip’s surge in popularity. Great Yarmouth, Norwich and Waveney all fall in the area of the east coast where Ukip recorded its best results in local elections in 2013 and 2014. Ukip gained more votes than any other party in wards in Great Yarmouth in 2013, and it is one of its top target seats for next year’s general election.

The links between failing schools and Ukip may run deeper. If low educational attainment correlates with Ukip support, as Rob Ford and Matthew Goodwin argue convincingly in their book Revolt on the Right, the struggling schoolchildren of today in Great Yarmouth could end up becoming the Ukip voters of tomorrow. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

This article first appeared in the 16 July 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Our Island Story

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.