I was listening to the radio walking home from work yesterday, when the actress Jenny Seagrove came on for an interview during which she mentioned the Everton Free School. Whatever your thoughts on the concept of Free Schools generally, Everton Free School looks like it does some pretty good work – set up by Everton Football Club, they offer alternative education to kids aged 14-19 who are excluded from mainstream provision.
Here’s what Jenny had to say about it…‘D’you know, it’s an amazing place…this school takes in kids who literally are three generations of unemployment. And they’re kids who are I hate to use the expression, but I would think it’s their last chance. They’ve dropped out of school, and the system’s failed them’.
Not much to argue with there – except, oh yes, this: THREE GENERATIONS OF UNEMPLOYMENT. That old chestnut. These kids are on their last chance because their feckless parents, grandparents, AND great grandparents were all unemployed. Right. No other factors.
There was some fairly well publicised research done by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation not too long ago, looking at the much hyped culture of worklessness. Despite actively and intensively searching for families with three generations of unemployed in two of the most deprived regions of the UK, they were unable to find even one such family. They did – just about – manage to find 20 families who presented with two generations of unemployment, but noted that there were a variety of long term and complex factors at play in these families, a major one being ill health. So on balance, whatever the issues faced by the kids at the Everton Free School (and I don’t doubt that the issues are are many, and real) it seems fairly unlikely that three generations of unemployment is one of them.
It’s really great that wealthy folk in the public eye are in a position to promote initiatives that work with excluded and disadvantaged kids, and clearly Jenny Seagrove is doing a good thing by supporting them. But I can’t help thinking that it would also be a great thing if the same celebrities took some time to understand the back story, and used their influence to help break down the negative myths and stereotypes, rather than perpetuating them.
You can access a summary of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation study, or indeed the whole report, here.