The government promises cash for Merseyside's schools
‘Words are not the answer to structural inequalities’: Plus the rest of the weekly briefing
Good afternoon readers — welcome to our weekly briefing. Schools in Liverpool, Halton and Knowsley are being promised more investment to tackle “entrenched underperformance”. Plus: We recommend a beautiful documentary short about a refugee women’s football team in Toxteth and an editorial by Steve Rotheram in Tribune Magazine about bus reform.
Over the weekend we published Part Two of our special report into Liverpool’s politics where we hear from commissioners, experts and opposition figures about the upcoming upheaval. We also signed up another 8 members over the weekend, taking us up to 312. It means we have almost doubled our community of members in the past few weeks! A warm welcome to all of you.
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⛅️ This week’s weather
The big story: The government promises cash for Merseyside's schools
The top line: Schools in Knowsley, Halton and Liverpool have been identified as areas of “high priority investment” by the government and will receive a portion of an extra £40 million in funding. The Schools White Paper sets out the government’s latest levelling up pledge to address “entrenched underperformance” in areas with the highest rates of disadvantage in the country.
The strong link between poverty and lower attainment in Merseyside’s schools was highlighted in a recent report, which said poorer students — ones eligible for free school meals — were falling far behind their non-disadvantage peers. Poorer students in Knowsley achieved GCSE grades 1.6 grades lower, the largest “grade gap” in the country. In Halton it was 1.46, and in Liverpool it was 1.45.
Where is the £40 million going? The government is promising literacy experts in school to monitor progress, one-to-one tutoring and small group tuition as a permanent feature in schools, and a new minimum of 32.5 hours of school a week, which could mean for time for sports, arts, English or maths. The Schools White Paper also highlighted the need for priority areas to retain and attract high-quality teachers for priority areas: there is a promise to deliver £30,000 starting salaries to achieve this.
The light is often shone on Knowsley as a borough where there are high levels of deprivation and lower attainment in schools. Since 2016, there has been no A-level provision within the borough. At a recent meeting, council chief Mike Harden said: “It is absolutely a priority for us. We've got to come up with a solution for that in the borough, it's an obvious gap in the offer.”
But education experts say the Schools White Paper doesn’t go far enough. Ian Cushing, a senior lecturer at Edge Hill, tweeted: “In anticipation of the phrase 'word gap' or 'vocabulary gap' featuring in the schools white paper today, let's remember that more words are not the answer to structural inequalities”. David Spendlove, who we spoke to for our report on Knowsley’s shameful A-level gap, added it rehashed existing policy that is already in place.
The bottom line: £40 million of funding will be distributed over the next eight years. The paper doesn’t say how much it works out per school, but there are 24 priority areas, and according to the government’s website, there are 86 schools in Halton, 72 in Knowsley and 251 in Liverpool.
Local news in brief
People on Merseyside can expect to see a 102% increase on standing charges for electricity bills on Friday, according to research by the BBC. The rise in prices varies disproportionately across the UK, and Merseyside and North Wales face the highest increases in Britain. More here.
Liverpool residents can have their say on the future governance of the city from today, which could see the mayoral model scrapped. The survey asks whether you want to keep the current mayoral model, have a regular council leader like Leeds and Manchester, or move towards a committee system, which is much less commonly used but is being adopted by Sheffield at the moment. More here.
Andrew Minnery, the Merseyside Police inspector charged with perverting the course of justice and assaulting a man in Birkenhead, admitted omitting evidence from his statement at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Friday. Two other officers are also charged with perverting the course of justice. They will appear at Manchester Crown Court in April. More here.
A ex-serviceman is walking from Skelmersdale to St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City on a personal pilgrimage “to do something positive after struggling during the pandemic” and to raise money for a handful of charities. More here.
Covid-19 case rates are starting to level off. The case rate for LCR is 779.3, up 5.3% from the previous week, compared to England’s 805.6, down 0.4%. Cases are highest in the Wirral, lowest in Liverpool.
Home of the week
A 2-bedroom cottage is on the market for £240,000 in Sutton. It dates back to 1885 and is a short wander from Sutton Manor Woodland.
📽 Cinema in the City is back on at FACT, the regular weekend programme showing award-winning and contemporary films from emerging filmmakers alongside food from Vietnamese food specialists VietNom. We recommend seeing Flee on Saturday afternoon, the story of an Afghan refugee now living life as an openly gay man. See the full programme here.
🎬 This week’s must-watch is Comfort Angels, a documentary about Comfort Etim, who mentors and coaches a football team made up of refugee women in Toxteth. After discovering that the asylum-seeking experience can be incredibly isolating, her dream was to create a safe space for women to come together. Watch here.
🗿 Merseyside Archaeological Society are hosting a talk on Saturday exploring Liverpool’s rich archaeological history, from prehistoric period rock art to post-medieval pottery. More here.
📚 The acclaimed Liverpool horror writer Ramsey Campbell is speaking at Blackwell’s tomorrow night launching his latest book, The Way of the Worm, the final instalment of a trilogy about occultism in 1950s Liverpool. More here.
🎪 It’s the first Saturday of April this week, so Granby Street market must be back. We loved this shot by Andrea, a local landscape architect, of the market from above. More here.
🎨 A student-organised spring fair is on at Blackburne House this Friday. Entry is free, and there will be arts and crafts, jewellery and food. All proceeds go towards Blackburne House Charity, helping women with free education. More here.
💃 It’s time to dance: Head to Jimmy’s on Bold Street this Sunday to learn how to dance salsa. No partner necessary, and beginners are welcome. More here.
🏔 Banff Mountain Film Festival, the very popular outdoor documentary festival screening the best films from explorers and extreme sport enthusiasts, comes to Crosby on Friday. Guardian critic Peter Beaumont recommends viewing The Slabs, a film about a Scottish mountaineer descending on the Isle of Skye, writing about the climactic moment: “I have watched it several times, and MacAskill’s descent of the steepest section, a rounded ridge of bald granite still has my heart in my mouth.” More here.
🍺 There’s a real ale and sausage festival at Lock and Quay in Bootle this weekend. There will be live music and 20 types of real ale. More here.
🎙 We liked The Poetry Rebels, a new podcast series on BBC Sounds hosted by the poet Lemn Sissay. The first episode is a great oral history of the Liverpool Poets, a group of anti-establishment spoken word artists who began performing in bars and clubs in the 1960s. Listen here.
🎬 We went searching through the archives on BFI Player and enjoyed Men of the Mersey, a film released in 1956 showing the dockers working in the heart of global trade, as African palm oil is unloaded and Port Sunlight produce uploaded. Watch here.
Our favourite reads
Steve Rotheram sets out his stall for a franchised bus system in the magazine Tribune, writing: “Where successive Tory governments have failed to deliver on ‘levelling up’ (or the Big Society, or the Long-Term Economic Plan, or the Burning Injustices or, come to think of it, any of the empty slogans they have offered us over the years), we’re showing what real, radical change looks like.”
This investigation in Wired finds that instead of being offered better working conditions, gig economy workers are being replaced with outsourced labour. A courier in Liverpool, hired through the staffing agency Randstad, says the conditions for workers remain the same. Academics who study the gig economy say this may be a new way of companies shielding scrutiny.
A thoughtful piece in Medium about Akinwale Arobieke, who gained notoriety in Manchester and Liverpool for an obsession with groping strangers’ muscles. Known as “Purple Aki”, a reference to his dark complexion, and referred to in a BBC documentary as a “big black man”, the article questions the stigma hanging over him, and whether his desire to touch muscles “was not sexually motivated, and that he was more likely motivated by a need for human connection.”
Joe Moran, an English professor at Liverpool University, writes in the TLS about how our working lives are changing after the pandemic, and that to heal our burnout and malaise with working life, we need to lower our expectations. “To be burned out is to be a modern, a victim of the age, a martyr to one’s own high ideals. Burnout’s historical antecedents, the now-forgotten soul sicknesses of acedia, melancholia and neurasthenia, were similar sources of both pride and shame.”
Letters from readers
Great reporting. Rare to read something original and informative about Liverpool City Council that isn't just copy and pasted tweets and biased anonymous sources (‘A bunfight: The year that will reshape Liverpool’s politics - again’), thewilk
Once again cracking insight from The Post (‘A bunfight: The year that will reshape Liverpool’s politics - again’), Richard Macdonald
I’ve subscribed. I’d rather pay a few quid for proper journalism than click bait rubbish. If it’s free you’re the product, Jonny Ford