Southampton’s education disparity: what can we do about it?


How much do we as students really know about the city in which we live? How does Southampton fare when it comes to education? What can we do about Southampton’s education disparity? Natasha Unwin investigates.

Students at the University of Southampton will typically get here riding on their GCSE and post-16 success, often clutching as many as ten (and sometimes more) good GCSEs. This success will be down to a varying mix of hard work, inherent talent and the luck of a well resourced school. I say luck deliberately because a good education is too often guaranteed to those able to pay for it and remains something of a postcode lottery for everyone else. It may be a slightly crude indication of education inequality but, the fact that 96% of privately educated children go on to study at university compared to just 16% of children who receive free school meals is certainly provoking.

Let us take Southampton city for instance; side by side with two universities, one of which lands in the top 100 universities of the world, are schools where only 35% of pupils leave at age sixteen with five Cs at GCSE. Results from 2011 revealed that in the city as a whole, 51.7% of school leavers achieved five good GCSEs to go out into the big wide world with, compared to a national average of 55%. Even the national average seems low when considering the importance placed on GCSEs and Southampton’s position below that demonstrates the distance between its various education institutions. It seems Southampton’s own can be very far from benefiting from the best the city can offer.

The good news is that there have been huge improvements in results and 2011 saw many schools drastically increasing attainment. Even so, as a student coming from a school where more like 90+% of pupils got their five Cs, the disparity in opportunities between the university students flooding Southampton each year and those schooled here, seems incredibly unfair; especially when educational attainment is so linked to life chances and deprivation indicators.

However, when it comes to solutions there is a wealth of untapped potential here at the University of Southampton. With hundreds of students looking to teach when they leave university and perhaps hundreds more looking for a productive way to spend those Wednesday afternoons, we have a resource to really make an impact. If you are one of the above, there a number of ways you can use your time.

Why not have a look at some of the student groups doing it for themselves; SIFE have been running a successful social venture, Wisemind, in a local college for sometime now. There is also the chance to gain leadership skills with a new start up venture looking to launch in October. Southampton Hub is hoping to replicate a volunteer scheme in Oxford, sending university students into local schools to mentor those most at risk of failing to achieve the grades they need.  And of course, it goes without saying really but, check out the young people and children section of the Community Volunteers opportunities page.


Third year English student, serial intern and somewhat overly involved in the 'ethical scene'

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