Focus on Walsall – A Look at Further Education in the Recession – Hit West Midlands Town

The Times Educational Supplement recently reported of the UK-wide cutbacks proposed for universities. The report looks at Queens University Belfast which is set to slash costs by £10 million, and highlights Oxford Brookes’ similar situation in having to cut back by £500,000. Interestingly, whilst the report does well to suggest that the recession will be felt in almost every institution across the country, there is little discussion of the difficulties for higher education I certain less-affluent areas of the country.

In Walsall, a large town that lies north west of Birmingham, university cutbacks are surely one thing, but other statistics published by suggest even bigger problems. Currently 41 percent of all residents that claim Job Seekers Allowance (10,739) in the borough are under 24, whilst less than 10 percent of school leavers are entering higher education – with just 4.5 percent and 5.1 percent in the wards of Bloxwich East and Blakenall respectively. These figures contrast with the hundreds of wards across the country that have 99 percent of young people enrolling on further education courses.

At first glance, it does not seem that that there is a lack of opportunity for those eager to enter higher education or enrol on a degree course in the town. Not only is there good access to facilities in Birmingham, the town itself is also home to Walsall College and the Sports and Art Campus of the University of Wolverhampton. The University of Wolverhampton currently serves over 20,000 students and has undergone a significant amount of pre-recession development over the last 10 years.

However, despite certain evidence of opportunity for young people in the area, Walsall has long been an area of below-average academic results, with the Office for National Statistics reporting that just 45 percent of school pupils achieved GCSE grades of A*-C. At, Shadow Innovation, Universities and Skills secretary David Willetts MP pointed his finger firmly at opportunity. He stated: “Far too many school leavers from poorer backgrounds, who have similar aspirations to their wealthier peers, are simply not getting the opportunities they need to match their ambitions…”School reform is crucial but there’s more the Government can do.”

Despite the difficult times in Walsall, plans are being put into place in order to improve education for young people. The Vine Trust, a charity established to help hard-to-teach young people, was founded in the town in 1989 – and has since gone from strength-to-strength by providing training and services to young people, and working closely with local education authorities and companies. The Vine Trust is pioneering a new wave of social enterprises, a trend that the government is backing in order to stimulate new jobs that transform our communities.

Natasha M. McKnight

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