Is gap getting worse in Norfolk between children of poor families and wealthy ones?
Action needs to be taken to stop areas of deprivation across the region becoming more disadvantaged, it has been claimed, amid fears the gap is widening between affluent and struggling young people.
Swathes of the region have been identified as deprived, with parts of Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Waveney and west Norfolk and Fenland particular concerns.
The rural nature of the county, which can leave people isolated, its poor education record in parts and low incomes has created vast gaps between affluent communities and those struggling to get by.
According to the government’s indices of deprivation study, almost every part of the county became more deprived between 2010 and 2015, while Norwich ranked 323rd out of 324 local authorities, second worst, in its study of the country’s social mobility, a measure of how someone improves their life chances.
At Norfolk County Council’s children’s services committee meeting on Tuesday, councillors heard that the percentage of disadvantaged children achieving a grade C or higher in English and maths at GSCE level had dropped from 38pc in 2015 to 36pc last year.
It compares to 43pc nationally for disadvantaged pupils, and widens the gap with the overall Norfolk cohort, for which the level jumped 4pc up to 61pc in the same period.
Speaking as part of our Fighting For Their Futures campaign, today Dan Mobbs, chief executive of the Mancroft Advice Project (MAP), which supports young people, said the area’s fortunes were at a “crossroads”.
“Doing more of the same and offering generic solutions is not what we need,” he said. “We really need to focus on what the individual issues are for young people - is it about mental health? Is it about a lack of access to recreational activities?
“There has been a lot of talk about social mobility, but the danger is that we just keep on doing more of the same. We need to think differently and really look at the individuals.”
Mr Mobbs said there had been great improvements in the classroom, and that it was pupils’ emotional and mental health issues which now need attention.
“Schools are under so much pressure to get the right GCSE results, which in deprived areas is even harder,” he said. “All that work leaves less time to develop those core life skills, which means they are doubly disadvantaged compared to schools in more affluent areas.”
He said he had high hopes for education secretary Justine Greening’s opportunity areas scheme, which promises to boost prospects in struggling areas including Norwich and Fenland.
In the government’s 2015 deprivation study - calculated using factors including crime, education, income and barriers to housing and services - Norfolk was the 88th most deprived upper-tier local authority out of 152, a fall from its position five years earlier in 97th (explore the map in this article to see how your area ranked).
Suffolk also dropped, from 114th to 101st. The lower the number, the more deprived the area is considered to be.
Almost every district in Norfolk fell during that period, including Norwich, from 73rd to 47th out of 326 around the country, and Great Yarmouth, from 57th to 29th.
To back up the figures, the government’s Social Mobility Index, released in January last year, ranked Norwich 323rd out of 324 local authorities in terms of social mobility, meaning young people growing up in parts of city some of the worst life chances around the country.
Waveney, East Cambridgeshire, Great Yarmouth, west Norfolk and north Norfolk were also identified as social mobility coldspots, all falling in the bottom third - a stark comparison to south Norfolk and Broadland, which sat in the top half of the index.
•Deprivation across the road
It is often the concentration of affluent and deprived spots in Norfolk that, akin to London, can really show up the lack of social mobility in some areas.
In west Norwich, for example, the number of children living in low income families varies from 30pc in Wensum ward, to less than 5pc in nearby Nelson ward.
Mr Mobbs said it is these extremes that show how, all too often, a postcode can shape futures.
A top performing secondary school in the region, Hethersett Academy, sits four miles away from City Academy Norwich, one of the worst performing.
And according to the government’s deprivation map from 2015, even communities living on the same road can be hugely more deprived than others.
Dereham Road, for example, is particularly split - containing neighbourhoods across the spectrum, from some of the least deprived to some of the most.
In particular, neighbourhoods around Clover Hill Road and Beecheno Road fall in the most deprived 10pc of areas around the country, while - just across the other side of Dereham Road - people living in Gurney Close and Sunny Grove sit comfortably in the least deprived 20pc.
What’s being done about it?
Hopes were raised last year when Norwich was revealed to be one of the education secretary’s six opportunity areas.
The scheme - which comes with the promise of a share of £60m of investment - identified some of the most challenged areas in terms of social mobility, and promised partnerships between schools, colleges and universities and cash for teaching and leadership.
In January, the secretary unveiled a further six - including East Cambridgeshire and Fenland.
It has led to hopes that deprived spots across the region will be pulled up by the scheme, which aims to improve life chances for young people.
But nothing has yet been announced - and when we asked the Department for Education for news last week, they said they did not have an update.
But at the council’s children’s services committee meeting on Tuesday, councillors were told that a board overseeing the project in Norwich had been put in place.
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