Free school meals and participation in higher education
With many school leavers still considering their futures, a report by the Department for Education (DfE) on widening participation in higher education (HE) found that poorer pupils are significantly less likely to go on to higher education than their richer counterparts. The Department’s work showed that for 2014/15, 24% of pupils who had received free school meals (FSM) at the age of 15 had ended up in higher education aged 19. This was a substantially lower rate than the 41% of pupils who didn’t receive free school meals. While this gap increased by 1% to 18% on the year before, the DfE pointed out that the gap has varied between 17% to 19% since 2005/06.
Best outside of London
Although the gap in the West Midlands was close to the national level at 17%, due to the strong performance of Inner and Outer London lowering the overall average, this was the smallest difference between FSM and non-FSM pupils outside of the capital. Of course, the size of the gap in itself says little about the proportion of FSM or non-FSM pupils that are going onto HE. Fortunately, the region also fared relatively well on these measures, with 24% of its pupils receiving free school meals ending up in higher education, the highest proportion outside of London. Viewed from the other end of the telescope, both Inner and Outer London also significantly led the percentages of non-FSM pupils moving onto HE with rates of over 50%. Outside of the capital, the North West was next best followed by the West Midlands.
The DfE report on widening participation in higher education also looks at issues such as progression to higher education by school type and social background as well as other widening participation measures. The report can be downloaded from here.
Post-school education funding inquiry
It the context of this, it’s perhaps worth noting that over the summer, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee launched an inquiry into the economics of higher education, further education and vocational training. Looking at the current post-school education and training funding, it will consider what changes are needed to make the system meet the needs of enterprise and the labour market while providing value for money for students and the government. The inquiry is taking written evidence until 14th September. The full details can be viewed here.
Police officer numbers
During the summer, the Home Office published its police workforce report. The figures showed that, although a number of forces had increased the number of police officers over the past year, the majority had experienced a decrease. In terms of the West Midlands, there was virtually no percentage change for Warwickshire, while the West Mercia, Staffordshire and the West Midlands forces all did worse than the England and Wales average, albeit that that average was less than 1%.
More dramatically, nationally, the figures show that the number of officers is the lowest since records began in 1996. The Home Office points out, moreover, that while earlier figures are not directly comparable, they suggest that the current number of officers is the lowest since 1985. All in all, there has been a decrease of over 20,000 officers, or a fall of 14% since 2010.
It’s perhaps also worth noting that earlier this year the Institute of Fiscal Studies looked at some of the longer term police staffing and funding trends, including the percentage precept, grant and spending changes for each Force. This showed, for example, that the West Midlands Force experienced the second highest percentage fall in spending across England and Wales between 2010/11 and 2014/15.
The changes in the cost of buying and renting a home in the West Midlands
According to the latest Land Registry figures, average house prices in the West Midlands rose by 4.7% over the past year. In England, only London and the North East experienced smaller increases. The highest increases were in the east of the country with the East of England and the East Midlands both recording increases of over 7%. All in all, the annual increase for England was 5.2%.
In cash terms, this places the West Midlands in the middle of the nine English regions, with the average West Midlands property costing £185,000 compared to over £480,000 in London and £130,000 in the North East. As would be expected, there are considerable local variations, with the Land Registry report also providing local level information on price, percentage change and sales volumes in addition to the regional level data.
Looking at the cost of renting privately, the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics showed that rents in the West Midlands increased by 2.2% over the past year. Like house prices, this level of growth placed it in the middle of the nine English regions. The list was topped and tailed by the East Midlands at 2.8% and the North East 0.5%.