Reducing deprivation and increasing opportunities across Norwich will be the focus of a new action plan which is being published this week for the Norwich Opportunity Area – a city-wide project focused on improving social mobility in areas which have traditionally struggled to break cycles of deprivation as social mobility “coldspots”.
Norwich was chosen as an Opportunity Area after it was ranked 323rd out of 324 districts in the 2016 Social Mobility Index, which compares the chances that a child eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) will do well at school and get a good job. At second from bottom the ranking makes clear that in many parts of Norwich, levels of deprivation mean that it is unlikely a young person will achieve a job level that reflects their potential.
And yet Norwich doesn’t initially present as an area one might associate with such stark rankings for deprivation. It was England’s first UNESCO City of Literature. It is a thriving centre for the insurance and finance sector, a fast-growing digital creative hub, experiencing rapid growth in jobs and population, and is a world-leading research base at the forefront of food, life sciences and health research.
Understanding why we have this discrepancy in creating opportunity for every young person, regardless of background, is one of the key aims of this new plan. It also sets out some ambitious aims to improve outcomes for all young people, not just those from the communities that face the greatest challenges.
The plan for Norwich focuses on key areas that make the difference, such as early speech and language development, careers information and support for young people as they move between school, college, university and work, and supporting those children most at risk of exclusion and disengagement from school. This holistic place-based approach is led by DfE, but harnesses the collective strengths of local partners as well as flagship national programmes, with £6m of funding and support.
A key strategy is to use the strengths of those leaders in education who know best how to help young people aim high and achieve their academic potential.
Stuart Allen, Headteacher at Mile Cross Primary is part of a Headteacher Working Group committed to supporting colleagues teaching and leading in city schools: “At Mile Cross we know that underachievement stems not from low aspiration itself but from a gap between the aspirations that children do possess and the knowledge and skills that they need to achieve them.
“At Mile Cross we help children to aim high and achieve their academic potential, by finding effective ways to motivate children to work hard in order to achieve the steps necessary for success later in life. We do this by creating a school experience which focuses on purposeful learning with real life outcomes, underpinned by a relentless drive to enhance the consistency and quality of teaching. Our school is successful because we show our children that we are investing in them, that we care and we want to make a difference.
One of the underpinning themes of the Opportunity Area approach is that solutions are evidence based. Stuart agrees that this is important: “We have evaluated what we have done well and what works. By clearly diagnosing the condition we believe we have the prescription for breaking down social mobility barriers. Consistency is also so important, and over the past ten years we have developed some very effective systems.”
Brian Conway, Head of Notre Dame High School and CEO of St John the Baptist Academy Trust, is a member of the Partnership Board for the Norwich Opportunity Area, and is leading the team of headteachers focused on raising standards of teaching and learning across the city. He believes that the strengths of passionate and effective leaders like Stuart are crucial. “The Norwich Opportunity Area has the potential to fundamentally improve outcomes for disadvantaged children across the city. It is exciting to see the combined energies of so many schools, colleges and organisations that work with young people focused on this goal – together we are going to make a difference.”
Stuart looks forward to working with like-minded school leaders to raise attainment in our city schools, and is optimistic that Norwich already has the skills and experience needed to rise to the challenge of becoming an Opportunity Area. “By understanding our context, sharing and applying more of the things we know are proven to be successful, we can work together to create a coalition of success in Norfolk schools.”