Page last updated at 23:40 GMT, Sunday, 18 October 2009 00:40 UK

'Stark split' in education levels

By Sean Coughlan
Education reporter, BBC News

Deptford skyline
Deptford has more graduate residents than Oxford or Winchester

The qualifications gap between the most and least educated areas in Britain is growing wider, says a lecturers' union.

Richmond Park in south-west London has the highest proportion of graduates, 64%, compared with the lowest, 10% in Hodge Hill, Birmingham.

"The current divide between the haves and have-nots is growing," says UCU general secretary Sally Hunt.

The lowest-achieving areas are found in industrial cities of England's North and Midlands, and parts of East Anglia.

Polarised

The government has pursued the cause of social mobility and widening university numbers, but Ms Hunt says the survey shows "the problem is even more deep-seated than previously thought".

This study of England, Scotland and Wales reveals a picture of stark divisions in educational achievement - measured in terms of adults of working age with degrees and those who have no qualifications.

Graphic showing qualification levels in London

Across Britain as a whole it shows that on average there are now more than twice as many people with degrees - 29% - as there are without any qualifications - 12.4%.

But behind these averages, based on the populations in parliamentary constituencies, there are increasingly polarised experiences.

The top 20 constituencies in terms of degree-holders have increased their graduate numbers on average by more than 8% to 49% between 2005 and 2008 - while the 20 constituencies with the lowest proportions of graduates have fallen from 12.6% to 12.1%.

The figures for people without any academic qualifications are as deeply divided.

Graphic showing qualification levels in Sheffield

In Sparkbrook in Birmingham, 37% of the working-age population have no qualifications of any kind - while in Oxford West, the figure is less than 2%.

There can be wide differences in the same city. In Sheffield, almost 60% of people in the Hallam constituency are degree-holders, while in Brightside the figure is 15%.

In Glasgow North, 53% hold degrees, while in Glasgow East, the figure is 16%.

The gaps in different parts of Cardiff is much narrower, with the proportions of graduates ranging between 43% and 36%. And in Edinburgh, the divisions are less extreme, ranging between 54% and 39%.

The lowest-achieving areas are concentrated in the industrial cities of the north and midlands of England, particularly the West Midlands - but also include parts of East Anglia, such as Great Yarmouth and South West Norfolk.

Capital appeal

The survey also has striking figures showing how London has become a magnet for the highest educated workers. Among the 25 areas with the highest numbers of graduates, 17 are in London.

MOST DEGREES
Richmond Park
Bristol West
Kensington and Chelsea
Hampstead and Highgate
Hornsey and Wood Green

This influx of graduates creates some unexpected inner-city results.

Deptford in south London has 49% of its population with degrees - a higher proportion than leafy areas such as Henley, South West Surrey or Epsom. This traditionally working class constituency has more resident graduates than Oxford.

Hackney North in east London, with 50% of its population with degrees, is better educated than more affluent locations such as Winchester and Cheltenham.

FEWEST DEGREES
Birmingham, Hodge Hill
Doncaster North
Walsall North
Bootle
Harwich

But this snapshot also shows the social divide within inner-London's communities, which the survey describes as a "tale of two cities".

Hackney North might have well above average numbers of graduates, but it also has above average numbers without any qualifications at all, these two groups living side by side.

Within the London area, the lowest achieving constituencies are not in the inner cities, but are clustered on the eastern outskirts. Romford has the lowest proportion of graduates while the highest level of people without any qualifications is in Barking.

The most successful areas in London are gathered in the south west - where in places such as Richmond, Putney, Battersea, Tooting and Wimbledon a majority of working-age people have degrees.

'Healthier and wealthier'

This is unlike any other city - not a single constituency in Birmingham, Liverpool Newcastle, Southampton or Leeds has such a graduate majority. There is only one seat in Manchester, Withington, which reaches this.

Getting a university degree remains a key indicator for the likelihood of getting a well-paid job - and a report by former minister Alan Milburn on social mobility called for greater efforts to widen access to higher education.

"Education holds the key to improving social mobility, tackling poverty and extending opportunity for all," said the UCU's Sally Hunt.

"Those with the greatest access to qualifications tend to be healthier, wealthier and more active citizens."

But she says that at present where you live will "largely determine your chance to educational success".

A spokesperson said for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the government in England "has worked hard to widen participation with the overall number of students from lower socio-economic groups going to university at its highest point in seven years".



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