Sheffield: two extremes

January 21, 2005

Brightside was the area of Sheffield hit hardest by the decline of the steel industry in the 1980s. It has high levels of second and third-generation unemployment, and the 1981 Census found that it had the country's highest proportion of people in unskilled jobs.

Just three miles away is Hallam, a suburb with large Victorian houses near busy streets lined with restaurants and Sheffield University buildings visible everywhere. Hallam is said to be home to the UK's highest concentration of millionaires outside Chelsea, and the 1981 Census found it had the UK's best educated population.

Paul White, professor of urban geography and pro vice-chancellor at Sheffield, says the divide goes back 100 years to when owners of cutlery factories and engineering works settled in southwest Sheffield, while social housing estates were built in the east.

Mo Laycock, head teacher of Firth Park Community Arts College in Brightside, says a legacy of the divide is stifled aspirations. Three years ago, a school "audit" found that only two parents of its pupils had been to university, and just 30 per cent of the school's children enter higher education.

Ms Laycock says: "We are getting kids into university, but it is a struggle. White working-class males are the hardest. Their parents often say it would be better for them to get some money in their pockets than go to university. Others say their daughters should be having bairns rather than studying more."

Most parents in Hallam expect their children to go to university. "About 80 per cent pay for their kids to have private tuition," Ms Laycock says.

Sarah Draper, head of Hinde House School in Brightside, says the city council's 1987 decision to shut all school sixth forms except in Hallam caused lasting problems. "The net result was a migration of people to Hallam. It skewed the ability profile of every school in the city."

David Bowes, head of Tapton Secondary School in Hallam, explains the value of a sixth form: "Because our pupils see our sixth form and what it can offer them, most aspire to join it." At Tapton, 72 per cent of pupils go on to sixth form, and of those who do 95 per cent enter higher education.

In Brightside, change is coming, Ms Draper says. Her school is being rebuilt and is taking part in schemes to raise aspirations.

Last month, Longley Park Sixth Form College was opened. It offers school-leavers courses that can lead to A levels or equivalent vocational qualifications. It already has more students than originally planned, 90 per cent of them local.

But Paul Ashdown, the principal, says that to truly unlock potential, higher education will need to rise to the challenge. "Universities need to engage with our students so they learn enough about them to be able to offer them a place," he says. "These students cannot cope with the level of risk around progression that traditional students can handle."

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