COMMUNITY relations and standards in primary education in Thurrock have been slammed by the Audit Commission in its overview of services.
The commission has assessed every council in the country. Any area of significant concern receives a red flag. Thurrock has received two for: community cohesion and improving educational standards and aspirations.
The reports were launched on the Audit Commissions new website, www.oneplace.directgov.co.uk, this morning but due to excessive volume of traffic has been inaccessible for most of the day (wednesday)
Over the coming week, YourThurrock will be interviewing members from the council as well as community leaders and educationalists to assess their thoughts on the report, on whether they think it is fair and the prospects for the future.
For your benefit, here is a annotated version of some of the reports findings. We will publish other parts over the next 24 hours.
1. Fifty-four per cent of Thurrock residents feel that people from different backgrounds get on well together.
This is low, the lowest in the East of England and one of the lowest in the country.
Although many people are active citizens and attend community events there is little recognition of engagement as having an impact on the quality of life in Thurrock.
Few people feel they can influence decisions locally with some wards showing particularly low levels of engagement. There are also other areas of discrimination such as sexual orientation and gender.
2.Community relations between people from different backgrounds in some neighbourhoods continue to be weak and community tensions can quickly occur.
Thurrock’s Community Safety Partnership is developing its approach to incidents of hate crime and promoting tolerance and is managing localised incidents well.
More needs to be done however to achieve an approach that really deals with the causes of community tensions with a focus on specific neighbourhoods, especially at a time of economic recession.
Partners in Thurrock are clear about what should be improved and how this should be done. They are committed to working together to address the low levels of cohesion and engagement. All partners in Thurrock have recently agreed a “Communities Together” strategy to improve social cohesion.
This aims to bring people together on the issues common to them rather than focusing on differences. Whilst all partners recognise community relationships are a key issue, they are not yet all working together in a way that is having an impact on the communities in Thurrock.
Community leaders also need to become role models to support cultural change in the community.
3. What’s being done in response
The Council and its partners recognise that local people believe that people from different backgrounds do not get on well together in Thurrock. Although joint working and initiatives are supporting communities to live well together this issue remains a significant challenge for local partners.
Thurrock has recently agreed a “Communities Together” strategy to improve social cohesion. The strategy aims to include all partners and places a key community leadership role on the Council whilst reaching out especially to Thurrock’s voluntary sector through the Community Involvement Board.
A meeting between councillors and community forums will build a real dialogue on the shared community priorities.
4. Examples of Good Practice
The Council’s community grants programme has helped to deliver events for people to come together. The Grays Riverside Community Association provided opportunities for people to come together through the East meets West event and an Eastern European Languages Club.
Other projects covered various cultural and community events and groups including Elderly Multi-Cultural Support Group, Tilbury Christmas Lights and Fayre, and the Thurrock Young People Multi-Cultural Group. Local people have been positive about these events and the grants scheme will be used again to promote multi-cultural events in 2010.
Joint working between the police, other agencies, voluntary groups and residents such as in Tilbury is helping to reduce and prevent conflicts. Although it is too early to assess the effectiveness of this, local people have made positive comments.
The education standards of children and young people remain low from when children are in primary school through to when they are 19.
Adult skill levels in the borough are considerably below the national average. A high proportion of adults of working age have no qualifications. Some young people and their families have low expectations of what they can gain from school or college.
This particularly applies to young people from white working-class families who perform less well at school compared to other groups.
Thurrock is taking action to raise aspirations in this group but the rate of improvement in their educational achievement is slow or not sustained.
1. Pre-School Work Praised
The work that Thurrock Council has undertaken with the parents of pre-school children is having a good effect. Standards for very young children showed a big improvement in 2008. Activities undertaken in children’s centres and with the parents of pre-school children are improving the literacy and numeracy skills of very young children. Work in children’s centres in Ockendon, Aveley and Chadwell are improving the literacy skills of pre-school children.
2. Primary Standards Slammed
However, this good early start is not continued. Test results for 11 year olds are too low and are improving too slowly. Standards for 11 year olds from white and mixed heritage and lower income families are particularly low and have got worse between 2005 and 2008.
A support programme for a group of primary schools has led to better results in those schools, this is too little overall.
The lack of good primary schools makes it more difficult to raise the achievement of 11 year olds and to provide a good foundation for their future achievement when they are 16.
In 2008 there were still seven out of 43 schools in the borough where pupils had not reached the minimum standards expected by the government.
A very low proportion of primary schools in the borough provide education that is of good quality and only one school out of 43 is outstanding. The quality of primary provision in the borough is not good enough and is not improving across the board.
More young people are achieving examination results equivalent to five or more higher passes at GCSE including English and maths. However, in 2008 performance in Thurrock was still well below that in most other places.
In 2008 the number of secondary schools where young people did not achieve the expected minimum examination standards increased for the third year running to 4 out of the 9 schools in the borough although information provided by the Council indicates they have been successful in reducing this to one school in 2009.
They are also proud that provisional results indicate they have significantly increased the number of young people achieving five or more higher grade GCSEs. Although this is a success, far more young people in Thurrock need to achieve at least 5 GCSE passes grades A*-C including English and maths if they are to be successful in moving to higher education or benefit from the new jobs and employment opportunities being attracted to Thurrock.
4. Post School
By 17 far fewer young people in Thurrock are participating in education or work-based learning than in similar areas or nationally. Consequently young people aged 19 in Thurrock are less well qualified than in similar areas. This also hampers their employment and further educational opportunities.
The Council and partners are beginning to address this by putting in place schemes for 14 – 19 year olds, such as practical learning in skills needed locally such as in retail (linked to Lakeside), logistics (linked to the Port of Tilbury) and child care.
A Skills Academy in Creative and Cultural Skills is being developed in Purfleet. However, it is far too early to see the impact of these developments on keeping young people in education and training and raising the achievement of 19 year olds.
5. NEETS: Rates Falling
The number of young people not taking part in employment, education has fallen at a faster rate than most other areas but many of these young people are employed in low skilled jobs without training and so their long term prospects are limited.
Too few young offenders and young people leaving the care of the Council take part in education, employment or training. The percentage of young people going on to higher education is half the national average, although more from lower income families do so in Thurrock in similar areas.
6. What’s being done in response
The Council and its partners are responding to the range of differing needs across the borough both geographically and within specific groups. While the Council and its partners are putting in place significant schemes to improve achievement and raise aspirations of local people, it is not clear how these will benefit all parts of the community or the long term impact it will have.
Activities undertaken in children’s centres and with the parents of pre-school children are improving the literacy and numeracy skills of very young children.
A support programme for a group of primary schools has led to better results for those schools. However, achievement in the borough , particularly for 11 year old pupils of white or mixed heritage and from lower income families has got worse between 2005 and 2008.
The quality of primary provision in the borough is not good enough and is not improving. The lack of good primary schools makes it more difficult to raise the achievement of 11 year olds and to provide a good foundation for their future achievement when they are 16.
Thurrock Council is actively addressing issues faced by the 14 -19 age group.
The Council offers a wider range of diplomas than other places in East Anglia. The Council and partners are putting in place schemes to improve the chances of young people being better able to compete in work.
The first stage of the Learning Campus in Grays is now open and a decision on stage two is due in early 2010. Connexions are helping young people.
The new Academies and the Learning Campus are offering a wider range of courses. Individuals are being supported through mentoring schemes and programmes such as careers fairs.
Funding has also been approved for Groundwork Trust to support the Pathways to Employment programme to help hard to reach young people and disadvantaged groups to find work.
Many local schools have Progression Agreements with universities and three are engaged with the Thurrock Learning Campus: Anglia Ruskin, East London and Essex. Partners are working together to improve opportunities for young people and attract funding to improve the experience and prospects for children, young people and adult learners.
However more needs to be done by all partners to encourage parents to support young people to continue in education and training.