Good news for Ipswich schools as new hub created for shared learning

Online PE lessons

Mel Scotland, owner of Learn Play Grow Ipswich, hosted online PE classes during lockdown thanks to funding from the scheme - Credit: Andrew Scotland/Ipswich Opportunity Area

Sometimes we all need a bit of good news, especially when we are living through such challenging times.

Although the headlines in schools at present are all about Covid, staff shortages, and increasing levels of anxiety, there is an important story to be told about a quiet transformation that has been going on behind the scenes and the dramatic headlines.

It is one of perseverance and commitment and it involves a group of local leaders who came together to make a difference to the life chances of children and young people growing up in Ipswich.

It is a place-based project, government funded, and it all started four years ago when Ipswich was selected by the government to be prioritised as one of 12 ‘Opportunity Areas’ across the country.

Originally deemed a three-year project, the Ipswich Opportunity Area (IOA) is now entering its fifth year and its success is being celebrated across early years providers, schools and colleges in the town.

There is no doubt that it has made a difference. Not only has it provided much needed funding for improvement projects, it has also brought school leaders together, enabled greater cooperation, grown expertise and has been flexible enough to react to the changing priorities and pressures as schools have navigated their way through a pandemic.

Opportunity Areas were set up to improve social mobility and reduce inequality. In Ipswich, following extensive stakeholder meetings, a partnership board selected a number of priorities that we believed could make a difference in our town.

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As a member of that partnership board, I have seen the commitment at first hand of wanting to improve standards of attainment, raise expectations and career aspirations, and most importantly give our young people the self belief, resilience, confidence and skills they need in order to be successful in their lives.

All sectors of the education system in Ipswich have benefited from the IOA funding and support. One early priority was making sure that we recruited and retained the best staff in our Ipswich schools and every school had extra funds to direct towards training and development.

There has also been a focus on the young people themselves with extra Saturday tuition for those taking GCSEs and careers support right through to a particular focus on the early years of a child’s life, early speech and language development and early assessment tools.

A myriad of projects have been undertaken, reviewed and analysed to measure their impact and much has been learnt. As the pandemic hit, the project was able to react and redirect more of its funding to support mental health, resilience and wellbeing as schools and young people struggled to cope.

Ipswich Opportunity Area programme manager Katrina Gardiner. Picture DAVID GARRAD

Ipswich Opportunity Area programme manager Katrina Gardiner. Picture DAVID GARRAD - Credit: Archant

Over the last year we have talked about sustainability and how to keep things going when the funding dries up, asking what the legacy of the Ipswich Opportunity Area will be.

What I hope will remain is a way of working that we had not managed to achieve before. We are a more connected, collaborative group of schools and colleges and there are networks of early years practitioners, behaviour leads, implementation leads, school leaders and others who are determined to make the most of the fifth year and hope to keep some of the activity going into the future.

Claire Flintoff

Claire Flintoff - Credit: Archant

Over the five years we have had an amazing team of people working to support our local leaders. They have organised meetings, written development plans, taken projects out to tender, handled communications, kept finances in order and generally kept the momentum going.

Much of the credit for what we have achieved goes to them. One of the planned legacy projects will be a platform on which we can share case studies and resources that showcase the learning from all of the settings and partner organisations involved in not just one, but three of our region's Opportunity Areas - Ipswich, Norwich and Fenland & East Cambridgeshire.

Ipswich Opportunity Area programme manager Katrina Gardiner. Picture DAVID GARRAD

Ipswich Opportunity Area programme manager Katrina Gardiner. Picture DAVID GARRAD - Credit: Archant

The hub was launched last week and will go live in spring 2022. As well as being a resource for educationalists to use, it will also be a celebration of what can be achieved when people are given the chance, and a little bit of funding, to work together for the good of all.