Children’s success shouldn’t be determined by disadvantaged background

Michelle Donelan, Minister for the Opportunity Areas. Picture: David Woolfall/Crown Copyright

Michelle Donelan, Minister for the Opportunity Areas. Picture: David Woolfall/Crown Copyright - Credit: David Woolfall/Crown Copyright

Michelle Donelan, Minister for the Opportunity Areas, writes about the importance of Norwich Opportunity Area.

No one’s future should be determined by where they are born. That was the driving force behind this Government’s Opportunity Areas programme – a £90 million investment to tackle the gap in outcomes between young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers.

This ambition is more crucial than ever before as we chart our recovery from the pandemic and get Britain moving.

As we enter the fourth year of this flagship programme, our challenge is now to focus on levelling up and supporting young people wherever they live.

For the last three years, the Opportunity Areas have prioritised young people in some of the most disadvantaged parts of England—including right here in Norwich to raise their ambitions and give them the same chances to succeed as everyone else.

The investment is already having an impact on reading levels, attendance, teacher training, recruitment and other key areas that will help improve social mobility.

We’ve also given secondary pupils across all 12 Opportunity Areas work experience to motivate and inspire their career ambitions as well as out-of-school activities that build confidence, leadership and problem solving to give them the skills they need to get the jobs they want.

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In Norwich, this has included primary and secondary headteachers working collectively across the city to improve outcomes and opportunities for the most disadvantaged students.

Take one example: the Norwich Inclusion Charter, signed by 40 Norwich schools, has resulted in strong collaboration through a network of Inclusion Champions, underpinned by a £1.4m package of OA support to help keep children in school and get the most out of their education. This has led to real benefits for pupils including improved attendance and fewer behavioural problems.

Next year, Opportunity Areas will have £1 million to support ‘twinned’ places where the challenges being faced are similar, to spread the expertise they have gained and deliver for those communities hit hardest by Covid-19 to address the attainment gap, support mental health and give young people the skills our economy needs.

As part of this focus on sharing what works, I will bring together ministers responsible for employment, youth services, public health, business and industry and policing to pool our collective expertise and achieve our shared ambition of levelling up for our young people.

We can tackle the barriers to social mobility more effectively when we come together across our different policy areas – be it improving young people’s skills for employment, tackling violent crime and protecting those at risk of exploitation, or regenerating local economies in left-behind places.

This includes starting our interventions early. For early years, our vision in Norwich has been to create centres of excellence for the development of early speech, language and communication skills and training a network of over 100 Communications Champions.

Working closely with our Norwich partners, we’ve been able to develop a rapid response to COVID-19, including launching a new initiative for Year 11 school leavers to help them brush up on English and maths and develop other skills to prepare them for their transition to college.

Our Early Years Communications Champions are supporting families online and developing skills in school to be ready for anticipated higher levels of speech, language and communication needs amongst children in September, and we’ve created virtual tours of infant and primary schools to help children make a smooth start in reception.

At the same time, more than 300 Year 10 students will have access to ‘catch up’ tutoring over the summer and autumn term, through a combination of in-house tutoring at school and external tutors.

The unprecedented challenge posed by the pandemic has made it even more important to invest in sustainable and long-term change to level the playing field for all young people, whatever their background.

Harnessing the expertise and drive that exists in abundance throughout the 12 Opportunity Areas is vital if we are to transform the opportunities available for young people in these communities, unleashing their enormous potential.

Our success is in their success.

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