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Ipswich education project gets £1.4m extension to tackle child mental health and coronavirus recovery

PUBLISHED: 06:00 18 July 2020

Ipswich Opportunity Area aims to boost childrens' education prospects regardless of background, and has secured another £1.4m of government funding to continue for another year. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCK PHOTO

Ipswich Opportunity Area aims to boost childrens' education prospects regardless of background, and has secured another £1.4m of government funding to continue for another year. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCK PHOTO

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A major education project in Ipswich has been given £1.4 million by the government to continue its programme for a fourth year, with a focus on mental health and recovery from coronavirus planned for the year ahead.

Ipswich Opportunity Area programme manager Katrina Gardiner. Picture DAVID GARRADIpswich Opportunity Area programme manager Katrina Gardiner. Picture DAVID GARRAD

Ipswich was selected as one of 12 ‘Opportunity Areas’, which launched in January 2018 designed to help youngsters fulfil their potential through a series of projects, regardless of their background.

MORE: Schools getting £53,000 boost from Ipswich Opportunity Area projects

On Friday the Department for Education confirmed £1.4m would be given to Ipswich for a fourth year to launch in September.

Project bosses say there will be a key focus on recovery from Covid-19 and children’s mental health, as well as continuing projects already started.

Programme manager Katrina Gardiner said: “We are delighted it is happening and we are really looking forward to cracking on.

Suffolk County Council cabinet member for Ipswich, Paul West, said he was delighted the Ipswich Opportunity Area project had been given more funding to continue. Picture: RACHEL EDGESuffolk County Council cabinet member for Ipswich, Paul West, said he was delighted the Ipswich Opportunity Area project had been given more funding to continue. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

“It’s been really great to see the dedication of our school staff and everyone in the system [during the coronavirus pandemic].

“We have had much more emphasis on mental health and wellbeing based on feedback from young people, community organisations, schools and national steering around the kind of support we need to offer in year four.

“It is about how we add value and support our schools to recover in the best way possible while continuing to increase social mobility.”

Among projects already developed under the Opportunity Area scheme are Saturday morning classes for pupils struggling with maths known as ‘What A Difference A Day Makes’, a new app for parents to spot the signs of emotional and social development in their child, and Supporting Wellbeing and Emotional Resilience through Learning (SWERL), which supports pupils’ wellbeing through measures such as psychotherapy sessions and therapy dogs.

According to latest data, more than 200 Ipswich pupils who attended the What a Difference A Day Makes sessions achieved a GCSE maths result one grade or more higher than predicted before taking part in the classes.

Year Four of the programme will continue to offer schemes like SWERL and What A Difference A Day Makes – which will broaden classes to include English, while other headline offers will include a ‘twinning’ programme with another area or school trust to share ideas, funded mental health training for nursery staff, and a dedicated project to support pupils making the transition from primary to secondary school.

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MORE: Projects announced for Ipswich Opportunity Area

Greater tie-ups are also planned with the Norwich and Fenland and East Cambridgeshire Opportunity Areas so ideas can bet shared between schools.

Year Four programme director Jackie Bircham said: “We hope that children will be in school and teachers will be teaching for the year ahead.

“But we have got to be really flexible in our approach in terms of what we can offer schools - to make sure that it makes the best use of what we have got to offer but can also react to circumstances as they arise, all with social mobility at the top of the agenda,

“Without the Covid situation, [the fourth year] was going to be fundamental to securing their legacy and fielding real sustainability. In light of Covid, it is really important to make sure that Ipswich schools are well supported to respond collectively and collaboratively for the benefit of all children.”

According to the team, schools in Ipswich have benefitted from tens of thousands of pounds of investment, and 99% of education establishments in the town have had Opportunity Area funded programmes.

Michelle Donelan, Minister for the Opportunity Areas, said: “Around the country, the response to the pandemic has been heroic, and each of the 12 Opportunity Areas has co-ordinated its approach to help those who need it most respond to immediate challenges.

“Now as we chart a course to recovery, we will build on the programme’s success so far to benefit young people in new areas and level up their life chances.

“We know that we can tackle these barriers more effectively when we come together across our different policy areas and by harnessing the expertise and experience of these dedicated professionals.”

Paul West, cabinet member for Ipswich at Suffolk County Council said: “I am delighted that the minister has agreed to a fourth year of funding for the Ipswich Opportunity Area social mobility programme. It clearly shows the government’s commitment to Ipswich.

“I would particularly like to congratulate everyone in the town who has contributed to the success of the project over the last three years, which has provided a strong foundation for the new plan.

MORE: What A Difference A Day Makes extended

“Looking forward, the focus on supporting early years provision, children’s transitions and mental health and resilience services is particularly welcome as we enter the recovery phase following the Covid-19 lockdown.”

The fourth year programme will formally launch on September 16 at 2pm, where an impact report on the first three years will be published alongside full details of the year ahead.

Visit the website here to find out more.


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