20160127_153336The Bristol Post recently reported that thirteen pupils from St Bede’s Catholic College had been invited to join Mensa after scoring highly on IQ tests which firmly placed them in the category of ‘genius’. Bristol has its fair share of talented pupils yet, by only encountering images of the city’s brainiest pupils in the media, it can be easy to forget about pupils who continue to fall through the cracks in Bristol’s educational system. Digging a little deeper into the 2016 collective results table reveals that schools in Bristol are struggling. For every carefully selected and positioned statistic there are figures that we don’t see which show that Bristol schools are predominantly failing pupils from inner-city areas.

In 2008 The Guardian described Bristol as demonstrating the epitome of “educational apartheid” – a fitting title to reflect the shape-shifting image of Bristol’s varied network of schools. Unfortunately, this label still seems to ring true in 2016. Postcode analysis of learners shows that pupils from inner-city areas were underachieving regardless of the school they went to, with exception of those receiving bursary-funded education at schools such as Bristol Cathedral School. These results are a world away from a report released in 2006 by the Bristol City Council which sought to support those in “the most intensely disadvantaged neighbourhoods.” The report emphasised areas of renewal and made a strong example of education. Hindsight may be a wonderful thing but objectives such as “raising attainment” and the aim to “improve educational services to BME families” now seems considerably undermined.

Typically, only 1 in 4 pupils from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds in Bristol achieve the 5 GCSE’s A*-C which are the requirements to develop a meaningful career in the UK. Very little is written about these pupils in Bristol’s local press but media silence is often deceiving. At Ashley Community Housing we have established a subsidiary training arm focused on enhancing the skills of people living in some of Bristol’s most underprivileged areas. We therefore have first-hand experience of the impact of flagging educational services on Bristol’s BME communities. The key barrier is frequently English language abilities. When a child comes home from an English-speaking school to a parent with limited abilities in English, they can often feel isolated from their school work as it may be difficult to ask for help or guidance. This can reduce confidence and self-esteem for children and parents alike. With no obvious infrastructure in place at schools to deal with these obstacles, the issue is compacted even further.

Collectively, local residents are now suffering from a distinct lack of employment prospects. Over 45% of pupils in Bristol are failing to receive adequate GCSE qualifications, creating a skills gap which is forcing employers to recruit candidates from outside of Bristol whilst contributing to the local housing crisis. By offering courses focused on increasing employability, our Himilo training provision seeks to fill this skills gap by giving unskilled locals a fighting chance of a future. Our level 3 training courses, in particular, focus on offering qualifications to both pupils and their parents who may not have been in a position to work towards an AS-level equivalent qualification. The courses offer learners a range of skills including business and administration, teaching, and health sector training. By creating these flexible learning opportunities, individuals in inner city Bristol are able to reach their full potential and work towards sustainable employment.

However, a quick glance at the 2016 GCSE results tables suggests the challenges continue to grow. The Bristol schools’ average figure of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs graded A*-C, including English and Maths, currently stands at 54%. Contrary to the positive coverage by local press, the results are ultimately skewed. Out of the approximate total of 5,775 pupils examined around 2,656 pupils are failing to gain access to entry-level career jobs. The local media’s renewed focus on the success stories of select Bristol schools misrepresents the overall spectrum of results. Of course we should praise the schools and pupils who achieve amazing results in an increasingly competitive race for employment, but change is still needed. Without a balanced perspective how can the city ever move forward if it does not make equal access to employment a priority?

At Ashley Community Housing we will continue to play our part in tackling this skills gap, supporting between 500 and 1,000 learners each year. It is time that schools throughout Bristol placed similar emphasis on their pupil’s journey to employment. Resources may be low and funding cuts are rife, but local government needs to be working closely with local schools to ensure they are well connected with employers who can offer many of their disadvantaged pupils hope and aspiration for the future. Without this established ecosystem of support, pupils and their parents will be pushed a step closer to the sad reality of life in the poverty trap.

Richard Thickpenny CQP MCQI

Business Development Manager, Ashley Community Housing