The life chances of Norwich’s poorest children are the second worst in the country
- Credit: SIMON FINLAY
Efforts to boost the life chances of the poorest children in Norfolk need to be co-ordinated and focused on those most in need, a former education secretary said today.
Baroness Shephard, a former Norfolk MP who is now deputy chairman of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, said voluntary organisations such as churches were only too ready to help.
She told leaders that tackling the issue was not just the responsibility of governments and statutory bodies.
'Because there is so much desire to help we could be beginning to get to initiative overload and co-ordinated, concerted and rather simple action is one of the best ways of getting a difference.'
She said there should be a focus on those most in need, proper analysis of what they need, wholesale support such as helping reading across a group of primary schools, measurement of the difference and sustained effort,'
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'There are a range of organisations ready and willing to help and there needs to be co-ordination to make sure young people get all the help.'
She joined leaders from councils, businesses, the Church of England, and voluntary organisations for the roundtable discussion organised by Norwich MP Chloe Smith to look at addressing the issue.
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Ms Smith organised the event after a report earlier this year found that chances of the poorest children in Norwich improving were the second worst in the country.
Norwich, Waveney and Fenland were among the top 10 social mobility 'coldspots' identified in the new index drawn up by the government-appointed commission which has been set up to address the gap between poorer children and their better-off classmates.
The survey of life chances was conducted across the 324 local authorities in England.
The 'geography of disadvantage' showed that while London's historic poor social mobility record has been shaken off, the children of low income parents in rural, coastal and more wealthy areas have been left behind, with the wealthiest areas proving to be the worst at creating opportunities for the disadvantaged.
The index looked at how well the poorest children did at school, university and in the job and housing market.
Labour's Norwich MP Clive Lewis withdrew from the event yesterday after receiving the delegate list claiming it was a 'gimmick'.
He said the issue of poverty, of cuts to local authority services, the issue of welfare cuts, cuts to disability payments needed to be looked at and he did not think the roundtable was going to do that.
But council officials did attend. Michael Rosen, executive director of children's services at Norfolk County Council said many of those who needed help were spread out around a large number of schools and he said that many disadvantaged families did live surrounded by affluence.
Speaking to the group he said Norfolk's schools were improving and warned that leaders should not be distracted by the structure of schools.
'What we need is to focus on is whether children are getting a good learning experience.'
He said the council had put a lot of effort into helping children in their early years, and they were particularly trying to work with parents who were not taking up free childcare.
Jon Platten, principal of the Open Academy, said that it was important to provide opportunities through businesses in the community.
He cited research which suggested that if children had four or more interactions with the world of work they were five time more likely not to end up with education, employment or training.
He also highlighted how important it was to have an international network of experiences, but that they were not necessarily taken into account in inspections.
'Schools have to make the trade-off between making those cultural visits against those hard-nosed academic metrics,' he warned.
Is enough being done to tackle social mobility? Email firstname.lastname@example.org