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17 July 2014

How failing schools help Ukip

Schools are getting worse in Great Yarmouth, the second most likely seat for Ukip to gain their first MP next year.

By Tim Wigmore

Poor education is one of the strongest determinants of voting for Ukip. Ukip voters are half as likely to have attended university than the population as a whole, and half as likely again to have left school aged 16 or younger.

The Department for Education recently published a list of the best and worst areas for GCSE results, based on pupils getting five grade Cs or above, including English and maths. The three worst schools were all located in East Anglia, the region in which Ukip has gained its best local election results and is targeting a number of seats in the general election. The City of London was the best performing area, with pupils 34 per cent more likely to gain five good GCSEs.

According to Ofsted, schools are only getting worse in Great Yarmouth, which bookmakers regard as the second most likely seat for Ukip to win their first MP next year.

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Five years ago Ofsted deemed schools in Great Yarmouth and London to be performing very similarly. Now the contrast is marked: as London schools have improved, so those in Great Yarmouth have deteriorated.

As the following chart shows, the overall picture in East Anglia is little better. Taking Great Yarmouth, Norwich North, and Waveney – three areas that the political scientist Rob Ford highlights as Ukip performing particularly strongly in – 44.3 per cent of pupils today are in schools that Ofsted deem to “require improvement” or be “inadequate”, a number that has barely dropped from 46.7 per cent five years ago. In England as a whole, the number has fallen from 38 per cent to 27 per cent while in London the improvements have been the most notable – just 16 per cent of pupils today are in schools that Ofsted deem to “require improvement” or be “inadequate”, compared with 29 per cent five years ago.

“We’re left out of everything,” says Matt 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.” While East Anglia’s schools remain so poor, such feelings will resonate, and it will remain fertile territory for Ukip.

But the links between failing schools and Ukip may run deeper. As low educational attainment correlates with Ukip support, the struggling schoolchildren of today in Great Yarmouth could end up becoming the Ukip voters of tomorrow.