Without a significant change in the performance of schools generally, the Cardiff Capital Region will stumble, argues Robin Hughes.
The £1.2 billion Cardiff Capital Region City Deal is ambitious.
UK Government, Welsh Government, 10 local authorities, Higher and Further education institutions, training providers, employers, the third sector and others are working together.
There will be a huge investment in infrastructure that can sustain a dynamic economy.
More wealth, greater prosperity and wider opportunity will come and improve the lives of people living in, and commuting to, the area.
People with skills will be needed to deliver the economy.
People will need skills to access the opportunities and engage in the economy.
On both counts, the impact of this ambitious plan upon the lives and life chances of local people depends on the extent to which our education and training system helps them acquire the skills that are necessary to participate and thrive.
Investing in people
On 08 January 2017, the leaders of the ten local authorities comprising the Cardiff Capital Region (CCR) unanimously endorsed the independent report published in December 2016 by the Cardiff Capital Region Growth and Competitiveness Commission.
The Commission was tasked with reviewing the city-region economy, and providing recommendations for its future development.
First among the eight recommendations is investment in education to improve employability and productivity.
Adult skills and a skills system that engages employers are mentioned explicitly in the prospectus for this grand project.
It is widely recognised that a modern economy will demand higher skills among the workforce.
It is recognised that people will need higher skills to fully benefit from this prosperity; those without will not.
Young people that are not engaged at school and those that fall short of 5 A*-C GCSEs including English and Maths are unlikely to get on the ‘skills escalator’ towards the higher skills.
Getting onto the skills escalator begins at school.
Our friends in the North
The Northern Powerhouse initiative has a schools strategy.
A wide range of stakeholders including think tank IPPR North, educational charity Teach First and the Children’s Commissioner for England recognise it is vital that schools get better, and quickly, if the big project is to succeed for the people it is meant to serve.
Launching project ‘Growing Up North’, Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England said:
“The regeneration underway provides a unique opportunity to reshape prospects for children in the North. I want every child, wherever they are born, to get the same opportunities and support to prosper. Growing up North will put children at the heart of discussions about Northern regeneration.”
Influential stakeholders are putting children, young people and schools firmly in the centre of the Northern Powerhouse.
Tale of two cities, the haves and have-nots
Across the Capital Region nearly two-thirds of young people achieve of 5 A*-C GCSEs including English and Maths.
Only one-third of pupils eligible for free school meals achieve that.
These indicators are improving. But the rate of improvement is slow, and the gap between the strong performing and poorer performing schools remains high.
There are 24 secondary schools in Wales that have 30% or more of their pupils eligible for free school meals. The best performer gets 59% of all pupils to achieve 5 A*-C GCSE; the worst performer only 24%.
This best performer is only marginally better than the worst performer among the 49 schools that have under 10% of their pupils eligible for free school meals.
At the current rate, it would take 30 years for the gap between non-eFSM and FSM groups to close.
The City region deal plan has a twenty year life-span.
Without a significant change in the performance of schools generally, the skills system envisaged by the Capital Region prospectus will buckle. The economy will misfire.
Improvement is happening. But more will be required if the promise of the new prosperity will be realised for a wider population.
Accelerating improvement begins with a commitment to have schools written into the plans for delivering the Capital Region. It would further focus the mind of all who have a part to play in securing this change.
This commitment should be followed by a clear strategy, and clarity about who is accountable for it and how that accountability will be exercised.
Tale of Two Cities opening paragraph:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us….”