Levelling up needs to focus on providing better, local learning opportunities and move away from talking about social mobility if it is to improve the lives of those in areas of the Midlands and north of England a report from the new Centre for Levelling Up at the University of West London (UWL) written in partnership with Policy Network has found. Based on in depth discussions with education leaders in 8 ‘red wall’ areas of the country, the report ‘Learning about Place: Understanding lifelong learning and social mobility in Covid Britain’, highlights the need for a more flexible lifelong learning strategy, more localised careers support and an expansion of higher education if the government’s levelling up agenda is to be effective.
Consulting across schools, colleges, universities and local authorities over the past year, in eight areas, (Blackpool, Derby, Oldham, Peterborough Sheffield, Stoke, Wakefield and Wrexham – all towns where Labour lost seats in the 2019 general election), the research found a drastic reduction in community-based and introductory learning opportunities, which help older adults and vulnerable people to get back into learning.
Even where entry-level learning provision does exist, people are not aware what is available to them and are unable to benefit, with the pandemic only exacerbating challenges around access to careers guidance and work experience schemes. But those areas where universities are more active offer greater opportunities for those at all levels to learn. The report argues that increasing higher education provision will boost opportunity in areas where such provision does not exist.
It also finds that those working in such areas want the language of policymakers to change. Phrases such as social mobility, disadvantaged/left behind and lost generations do not describe what people want or who they are. In a post Covid era – people want broader opportunities accessible locally and policymakers to adopt a language that means something to local people.
Professor Graeme Atherton, Head of UWL’s Centre for Levelling Up who led the report, said:
‘These are all areas characterised in the government’s levelling up agenda as being left behind by social and economic changes, with poor jobs, failing schools and out-dated infrastructure. However, the reality is more complex than this. While they all have challenges, they also have strengths. But to build on these strengths we need a new ‘hyper local’ approach with stable, long term investment where control is as close as possible to delivery. Short term funding for high visibility projects will not be enough. We must put education at the heart of our efforts in support of change if we are going to help people transform their futures.’
Learning about Place: Understanding lifelong learning and social mobility in Covid Britain’, was published by Professor Graeme Atherton, Head of UWL’s Centre for Levelling Up, and Dr Barry Colfer from think tank, Policy Network.
- The University of West London’s Centre for Levelling Up is a new research centre focused on producing policy relevant research related to inequality.
- The report focuses on one part of the government’s levelling up agenda – the provision of educational opportunities – across eight areas across the UK. In each area stakeholders from schools, colleges, higher education, local authorities and the broader private and public sector were consulted with between November 2020 and March 2021.
- For media enquiries please contact Professor Graeme Atherton on Graeme.firstname.lastname@example.org or 07824412702.