Deprivation at Number 10.

Goodness knows what is going on behind the door of Number 10, Downing Street. I suppose one day it’ll all come out in yet more political diaries, written in the gardens and estates of rural, southern counties. And we will all remember the chaos and drama, and possibly reflect that, yep, it’s still going on. Who knows?

But over recent days, I have been taken aback by another Number 10.

The Index of Multiple Deprivation, commonly known as the IMD, was released for 2019. This is the official measure of relative deprivation for small areas in England, commissioned by HM Government. The last survey was done in 2015. It takes small, local neighbourhoods, or super-output areas, and ranks them from 1 (most deprived) to 32,844 (least deprived).

My amazement was down to the fact that our neighbourhood, the one that surrounds our school, had been ranked as…Number 10. Yes, we were tenth. 10 out of 32,844.

Of course, I shouldn’t really be surprised. We run a Children’s Centre and we’ve known for years just how much things have deteriorated. I regularly walk around the area, proud of what we are doing and proud of our locality, but it isn’t half depressing to see such decline.

However, I really don’t like referring to the community as deprived, or even worse, disadvantaged. To me, the people in our community will always be my equal, a community that I have chosen to serve because I like it, and I like the people in it. Read ‘Poverty Safari’ by Darren McGarvey (right to the end, mind you) and you’ll get an understanding on my position on this whole deprivation thing. I really dislike the whole woolly, liberal paternalism which I feel is self-serving and patronising. ‘Poorer communities are viewed as primitive cultures that need to be modernised, retooled and upskilled’, McGarvey comments at one stage, and he’s right to be critical.

Alas, these Indices of Multiple Deprivation only tell half the story. Yes, they cover a good few: material poverty, poor housing, worklessness, lack of education post-16, crime, health (this one is especially bad). But for those of us in schools, we’ve only touched the sides. In his recent blog, Wrestling with Long-Term Disadvantage (https://leadinglearner.me/2019/09/29/wrestling-with-the-long-term-disadvantaged/) Stephen Tierney – from Blackpool, location of numbers 2,3,4,5,6,7,8 and 9 out of 32,844 – makes some really good suggestions about the potential action that could support schools and mitigate against their neighbourhood challenges. Of these, surely the easiest to organise (but maybe not fund) would be a full-time nurse in each school/children’s centre.

Yes, there are many more ‘indices’ that come to mind. Here are another couple that I feel every day but that the Government’s IMDs don’t really highlight (slightly tongue in cheek but true nonetheless).

Space.

We’re landlocked. We have virtually no grass. Just small, concrete playgrounds. As a popular school, we’re pretty full. There’s so, so little space. Lunchtime is more like the London Underground at rush hour. I stand there on duty, remembering my own school days, and it makes me quite angry. I had open fields, acres of space, and peace; why can’t my pupils have the same?

Then there’s the weather.

I’m sorry but if you live in an area which lies somewhere towards the North and the West, then you have twice as many rainy and windy days than those in the South and the East. It’s horrible weather, and makes it so hard for the children to engage in decent physical activity. OK, you might ask, well let them run around inside?! ‘Fraid not. Because the Hall is used for lunches, assemblies, extended schools, orchestras and goodness knows how many other lessons.

And yet, I simply refuse to use the language of deprivation or disadvantage (apart from in this blog…) You’ll find no self-pity or blame culture or hypocrisy here.

No, we’ve amazing community partners and businesses, truly wonderful people, and some fabulous parents who support us through thick and thin. We have brilliant governors, many incredible members of staff and, of course, many top, top pupils.

Deprivation is raw, it’s real and it’s worrying. But it can also become a state of mind. You can do something about it; you can work against it. It should never be an excuse. Working in such communities requires belief, commitment and incredible perseverance. Coming in for a couple of years to get ‘experience’ is a waste of time. I’m no brilliant headteacher – I’ve many flaws – but I’ve stuck at it for nearly fourteen years, enough to build trust and know the community really well. Many of my colleagues have done the same. Maybe it’s because we have got used to it that we don’t recognise its ‘disadvantage’ (apart from the lack of bloody space).

I’ve written before about ‘soul’ and it refers not just to the school but to this wider community. Having a positive and excuse-free culture allows this soul to grow and thrive – leading to a spiritual and cultural heartland promoting constant hope for the future.

That’s why I was so surprised when I saw this Number 10 figure.

So call us deprived, Mr IMD, if you must. Install us at Number 10 out of God knows how many super-output areas. Make us the focus of your next ‘think-tank’ discussions. Begin a few pointless initiatives to ‘transform’ the area.

For me, it won’t really make any difference.

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