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Chris Skidmore, Nick Cuff and Charlotte Leslie: The Invisible Children

The_bow_group"Invisible Children" is the first part of the Bow Group’s "Invisible Nation" series. The research report, to be published in full tomorrow, uncovers the thousands of ‘The Invisible Children’ who never make it to the league tables.

It is ten years since Tony Blair made education his priority in government. An entire generation of pupils have passed through school under Labour’s watch. Pupils who were in the first year of primary school in May 1997 finished their GCSEs last summer. So, has every child mattered?

It is well known that over half of all pupils do not gain five good GCSEs including a grade C in either maths or English. This is the standard that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority advises pupils need to function as citizens.

But the standard 5A*-C measure only scratches the surface of what’s really going on in our schools. Beneath this familiar headline standard there are far deeper challenges.

First, thousands of pupils are not even coming close to achieving the grade. Almost a quarter of all pupils sitting GCSEs do not gain any grade above a C. Over 60% of these are boys. The percentage of pupils not gaining five GCSEs of any grade remains the same as 1999, and has fallen backwards since 2001.

Moreover, in particular areas, particularly in deprived inner cities, things are actually getting substantially worse. New research by the Bow Group reveals that in nearly 700 wards in England the percentage of pupils achieving five GCSEs of any grade has fallen backwards since 1997.

Tens of thousands of GCSE entrants are not being entered for the compulsory GCSE subjects that are the ticket to employment and opportunity. 27,000 pupils were not entered for English, 20,000 pupils were not entered for maths and 45,000 pupils were not entered for science - an increase of over a 1,000 pupils since last year.

But our most striking finding is that there is an entire cohort of invisible students who simply drop off the school roll or out of the league tables. What this report calls the ‘Invisible Children’. Pupils drop off the school roll at 5,000 pupils a year. By the time pupils reach their GCSE year, over 7,000 are missing from education. Of the rest still in school, around 20,000 pupils are not entered for any GCSE qualifications. Of those who are, almost 30,000 leave without a single GCSE. In total, whether they have gone missing from the school roll, not been entered for GCSEs or not gained a GCSE, nearly 60,000 children leave education without a GCSE to their name.

But what can be done? Part of the solution lies in courses which are constructed and delivered in collaboration with businesses. Courses need to offer a flavour of the practical to excite the disengaged However, getting firms to participate will take more than woolly PR and generous endorsements.

The vast majority of businesses and small businesses in particular, are simply too busy to give up their time. A poll commissioned by the City & Guilds revealed that 71% of businesses wanted more assistance from Government to support apprenticeship schemes whilst nearly two thirds suggested the Government look to offer tax breaks.

We propose the establishment of Enterprise Portals up and down the country. Each Portal would be administered at a local authority level and act as a gateway for local public services to work with small businesses. Participating small businesses giving up their time would enjoy an exemption from paying business rates. Exemptions offer a real incentive - business rates are the third largest item of expenditure for many businesses and the burden of business rates falls heavily on the smallest. As rates are collected locally, it allows tax incentivisation to be administered at a local authority level.

Making vocational courses centred on the work place is one way to reach out to the invisible children lost in the system. It’s time we brought to an end the shocking levels of disengagement.


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