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“We need to improve education in the South West of England”

The South West of England is a prime destination for stays – many of us will pack up this summer and head to the winding roads and rough beaches.

But the economic disadvantage in the Southwest is often overlooked. The area is almost forgotten when it comes to the leveling Uup conversation, which focuses on a north / south split.

A report by Prof Lee Elliot Major, based at the University of Exeter, showed that only 40% of disadvantaged students in the Southwest achieved a standard pass in GCSE English and Maths in 2019 compared to nearly 60% in central London.

University progression rates for disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged young people are also the lowest in all regions. A tiny 17% of disadvantaged students attended university in 2018/19, in contrast to 45% in London.

Action is needed to support the young people of the region. Poverty often has an urban feel, but being handicapped is debilitating whether you live in a downtown skyscraper or a rundown cottage. There are benefits to growing up in the countryside, but there are downsides to being educated in a rural area, and we should be realistic about these so we can address them.

Cities offer more opportunities at your fingertips, and there are more extracurricular activities or work experience options than campaigns.

Another key issue is access to extra educational support, especially in terms of mentoring. The Sutton Trust commented that many of the largest private teaching agencies are based in the capital, suggesting that tuition may be more affordable for Londoners than for rural communities. It was also noted that mentoring tends to be more in demand and more readily available in urban than in rural areas, exacerbating geographic inequalities.

As the dust settles on the vast educational disruption caused by the pandemic, the importance of mentoring, not only to help children reach an average standard, but also to support gifted children to reach their full potential, is becoming clearer.

The recent White Paper on Schools from the Department of Education said that by 2024, up to 6 million tutoring courses will be introduced and that action will be taken to consolidate tuition as a permanent feature of the school system. In his report, Professor Elliot Major acknowledges that mentoring is one of the few educational approaches with a sizeable evidence base showing the potential to increase student achievement on a large scale.

Some schools in the Southwest have joined the use of the MyTutor online tutoring platform as part of the National Mentoring Program, helping to address any lack of access to in-person tutors locally. We are delighted that more young people have been linked to our university tutors, as this peer support nearby is invaluable for young people in rural schools. The aforementioned report on social mobility, in fact, commented on how the use of university students as tutors can help to stimulate the aspirations of young people.

Connecting students with tutors in any part of the country from a wide range of different backgrounds, who are studying a variety of subjects, in order to pursue a plethora of different careers is particularly relevant for those located in the Southwest. Most areas in the region have a higher percentage of routine jobs and fewer managerial and professional jobs than the UK average. The peninsula’s countryside and beaches are a big draw, so it’s no surprise that tourism and service work are dominant, but it can mean it’s harder for young people to imagine all the different career paths out there. Taking Devon as an example, nearly half of employment in the county in 2019 was in the health, retail and tourism sectors.

Connecting students with tutors in any part of the country from a wide range of different backgrounds, who are studying a variety of subjects, in order to pursue a plethora of different careers is particularly relevant for those located in the Southwest.

The relative lack of diversity in local industries also means that if parents seek out a traditional local tutor, they are likely to have a much more restrictive choice of background and knowledge than is offered elsewhere. Living in a village or small town, away from a university, makes it more difficult to find an appropriate local tutor who is not only prepared to make the trip to do the job, but who also connects with the child. Online tutoring means that children in rural areas can connect with college students who not only act as tutors, but as role models for inspiration.

Engaging with an online tutoring platform means that young people will be able to find a suitable tutor for them. This is especially beneficial for those living in the countryside, as geography often determines which school they attend. The closest one can be miles away, and the practical ability to choose is very limited. Choosing a mentor can be one of the most crucial decisions a rural parent and child can make when it comes to their education and future success, so they need as much choice as possible. Ensuring young people in the South West are no longer left behind should be a top priority for everyone involved in their education, whether it’s from the Westminster corridors or from a laptop in student classrooms.

Florence Milner is UK Schools General Manager at MyTutor

“We need to improve education in the South West of England”

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