Social mobility: How a new initiative could improve life chances for Norwich’s deprived young people
- Credit: SIMON FINLAY
Affectionately dubbed the Fine City, to most, Norwich is a historic and charming part of the country.
But with pockets of deprivation peppering its affluent neighbourhoods, for many life in the city is anything but fine.
In January, Norwich was identified as the second worst performing area in England for disadvantaged children's social mobility, the measure of how a person improves their life chances.
In short, it means young people growing up in deprived areas of Norwich have some of the worst prospects in the country.
Work to tackle the problem is ongoing – Norwich North MP Chloe Smith chaired a roundtable in response to the index.
And earlier this month, education secretary Justine Greening announced that Norwich had been identified as one of six places in which a trial approach to improving social mobility would be tested, with a share of a £60m cash pot pledged.
Details are sparse – partnerships between low-performing and successful schools and better access to careers advice have been alluded to, but little has been revealed.
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When asked for more, the DfE last week said they had nothing to add - though an announcement is expected on Thursday.
In the wake of the proposals, we've taken a look at what needs to be targeted.
In 2013, Norwich became the worst performing city in England for GCSE results.
Though it has since shaken off the title, last week's provisional results revealed that some city schools, including the Hewett Academy and City Academy Norwich (CAN), remained 'well below average'.
But Dan Mobbs, chief executive of the Mancroft Advice Project, which works closely with young people, praised recent changes at CAN, saying it had seen a 'real turn around'.
He said the school had focused on children's wellbeing and preparing them for the workplace - which he described as crucial.
'Improving careers advice so young people know what's out there is really, really important,' he said.
Bringing an end to segregating children by ability is also something he said he would welcome.
'If you have a classroom of mixed ability it brings everyone up. Streaming children too soon means the ones at the top get complacent and the ones at the bottom think it's a waste of time.
'Schools have a huge challenge, and it's one we all need to get behind.'
Dotted among Norwich's affluent areas, such as the Golden Triangle, are communities living in poverty –with more than a third of children in the city believed to be living below the poverty line.
'We have a lot of deprivation in Norwich, in very specific areas,' Mr Mobbs said.
He cited the west of the city as an example – in Wensum, more than 30pc of children live in low income families, while in nearby Nelson, it's less than 5pc.
'If there are 10 houses in a street, and nine take care of their gardens,' he said, 'the 10th person will feel an obligation to do so. It's that same idea – creating mixed communities means ideas and values are shared.
'If you tackle inequality, everyone benefits from that, not just poorer people. You create a healthier society in general.'
He acknowledged that it was not an easy problem to fix, but said investment in affordable housing was vital.
Dwindling stocks of social housing and rocketing private rents exclude hundreds of young people from living – and working – away from where they were raised.
Though Norfolk's rural nature is part of its charm, the associated isolation has been identified as a social mobility issue – with job seekers limited in where they can work.
Kickstart Norfolk was set up in 1996 to help people travel around the county via its fleet of mopeds. Today, it boasts 300 – 270 of which are currently in use.
Barry Lynes, rider coordinator, said: 'There is a lack of public transport locally and what is there doesn't really factor in work times.
'We work closely with the job centres and most people who come to us have struggled to find work or accept offers they are given.'
To improve prospects for those in deprived areas, strengthening public transport and investing in charities including Kickstart would be key.
The weaknesses at Norfolk County Council's children's services are well documented, with the body accused of failing vulnerable children and rated 'inadequate' by watchdogs.
Meanwhile, concerns remain over the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, which deals with mental health. On Saturday, it was confirmed that the trust had been lifted out of special measures for the first time in 20 months. It is still rated as 'inadequate' for safety.
It is unclear what impact the problems have on social mobility, but ensuring that disadvantaged children are safeguarded by the region's statutory bodies is critical.
Preparing young people for the workplace and pointing them towards roles is arguably the most important area for the scheme.
Careers advice has been identified as an area to strengthen, and Mr Mobbs said apprenticeships, partnerships between schools and colleges and work experience were vital for those brought up in deprived areas.
'I don't think young people lack aspiration – it's opportunity,' he said. 'When they are younger they don't have any limits on what they want to be - then something happens when they get older. If you grow up in a household where nobody works, you don't get the stories of employment and the positives – the friends, social life and so on. This comes back to the mixed communities, which benefit everyone.'