Cardiff Capital Region City Deal: a tale of two cities

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….

Robin Hughes is an Education Consultant and School Governor.

One thought on “Cardiff Capital Region City Deal: a tale of two cities

  1. I listened to the leader of Cardiff Council waffle on at the beginning of the last meeting of Cardiff City Council, (I watched it on the web cast turning it off before it deteriorated into a bickering mass) about the new city deal and how Cardiff was growing at a phenomenal rate with all the great things in Cardiff. However at the same time in this same city, kids in 3 schools, which have been in a disgraceful state for decades were being bussed all over Cardiff (and if the stories I have seen on social media are to be believed ) left to their own devices, drawing pictures and watching TV, at time when they should be preparing for the exams that will shape their futures, doomed by gross incompetence and neglect .

    In fact this is “A Tale of Two Cities” in one city. Indeed as Cllr Bale would say “It was the best of times” with Cardiff growing with all, these new projects, the BBC offices, and our new first class bus station and the pretty pictures we see on city walls. Then there is the reality which could be described as “The worse of times”, the state of education (as the author alludes to), with schools literally falling down, in the more socially deprived parts of Cardiff,the state of the roads (potholes like a golf course) I have heard from more than one source a teacher visiting from England who was at Michaelston say that “that you would not see a school in England in a state like that”, and I believe him or her! I did not see that when I was living in the US, even in the worse parts of US cities, schools were in decent condition.
    When I talk to politicians about the state of the school’s or listen to debates about the trains, I hear the same thing or excuse, mañana! It will be great tomorrow because we have spent millions on a state of the art “super” “community” school, or when when my train is ridiculously late, even in God’s Country of Llantwit Major and I miss the bus and have to walk home in the pouring rain because I have missed the connecting bus. It all be great, making tommorow, when the Metro arrives,and when will that arrive? When people land on Mars? People are not fooled, they can’t wait that long. 30 years is too long. A city of Culture includes a first rate education for all,children young and old, it’s not just football or rugby stadiums its about libraries not hubs! Karl Mark working in the British Hub, just does not sound right!

    Let it be a tale of One City, and truly it will be the “Best of Times”

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