On the face of it, the Echo’s report last Thursday (28th June) positioned Southend as a ‘town of two extremes’ when it comes to students attending university, or going into further education, with figures varying widely across the spectrum.
But in addressing that issue, I think there’s one statistic that says so much about a town’s true educational status: the NEET figure: which for those unaware of this particular acronym, means those aged 16-19 Not in Education, Employment or Training. For 2012/3 Southend’s NEET figure was just 5.4 per cent, below the national average.
Southend is also 3rd out of 60 ‘cities’ (City Outlook 2013, Centre for Cities) for 5 A*-C GCSEs (including English and Maths), we have high apprenticeship figures and are below average on Job Seekers’ allowance claimants, youth claimant count and long-term claimant count.
So much for stats you might say, but these figures present a much fuller educational picture. So now to the big question for many with children in Southend: why are we recognised as having great success sending students to university from some secondary schools in the town, while the numbers of students going to university from others appears low?
The answer is that these figures are quite normal for Southend. This is because with few large companies in the Southend area, there is a long-standing pattern of children either going to university or into work.
However, the companies that traditionally employ these youngsters are typically small or medium-sized companies who tend to train people ‘on the job’ rather than through formal training courses, which they don’t have the capacity to run themselves.
Whilst education is important in its own right, I think we have to be pragmatic and say that for the average resident they are more worried about using their education to get a job and earning a decent wage. Which is why it is great to see external verification that this is exactly what is happening, with Southend being 15th out of 64 for employment and 9th out of 64 for average weekly wages (City Outlook 2013, Centre for Cities).