This is a golden opportunity to improve social mobility of town's children
I wonder how many Ipswich residents are aware that the town has been designated an "Opportunity Area" for improving educational outcomes and that this designation comes with a pot of money of at least £6 million?
The announcement was made by Justine Greening, the Education Secretary, back in January but the initiative was put on hold through the election period and has only really picked up speed in the last few months.
It is deeply disappointing to think that Ipswich is in need of such support - one of only 12 areas across the country that have received this designation and will be targeted for improvement.
However, you could argue that it is recognition of the difficulties that educational providers have been facing for years and of the culture of low achievement and low expectations that has been allowed to fester and grow.
Opportunity Areas have been described as social mobility “cold spots” and have been selected from areas identified in the social mobility Index published by the Social Mobility Commission.
They are areas where, if you come from an economically poor (or in education speak ‘disadvantaged’) family, you will have a much harder time at school, find it more difficult than other students to get good results and your chances of earning a decent income when you leave school will be low.
In other words, there is very little chance for you to be ‘socially mobile’ and escape from the economically poor background of your parents.
All of this terminology is fraught with difficulty, with over-generalisation and stereotypical discrimination. However, the facts are there for all to see - students in Ipswich schools, especially those from disadvantaged families, are not achieving the same school exam results as they would if they lived somewhere else. The evidence is irrefutable and therefore surely must be embraced and acted upon.
So the announcement that Ipswich has been identified and will benefit from funding to change can only be welcomed with open arms.
Every educational provider; schools, colleges, teachers, support staff, club and voluntary group leaders, etc, must get involved, take advantage and most importantly, they must be prepared to change.
Deep rooted cultural attitudes and behaviours will need to be challenged and transformed and this cannot singly be achieved by the providers of education in the town.
It is essential that parents, families and communities are involved, communicated with and changed through this initiative.
If the aspirations we hold for our children are the same as the ones our parents had for us there will be no change. There are communities in Ipswich, especially amongst the immigrant population, where aspirations are incredibly high and children are encouraged to make the most of their education, shown the value of learning and see hard work and effort as essential characteristics to develop in order to be successful.
There are too many communities in Ipswich where school is feared, learning is undervalued and inevitably student outcomes suffer. It is in these communities and families, and with the educational providers who work in these areas, that the Opportunity Area actions and priorities must be focused. The task is huge.
What fills me with hope is the tremendous goodwill, time and effort that the town’s educational leaders and interested parties have already shown towards the initiative. Stakeholder groups have captured people’s concerns, ideas and existing knowledge and a ‘partnership board’ has been established to support the writing of the action plan. The Department for Education is pushing hard to get an action plan in place for publication before Christmas and many local volunteers are attending additional meetings and working to tight deadlines in order to support this.
In my view the priorities are focused in exactly the right places and the planned actions will have a direct impact on practice and provision in the classroom which, as schools know, is the place that counts.
Providers will be given the opportunities and funding they need to make the educational offer as good as it possibly can be.
The challenge is to the communities of Ipswich that need to change as well which, in a time of austerity and increased pressures, is going to be hard ask.
Clare Flintoff is Executive Principal at ASSET Education which runs St Helen’s, The Oaks and Whitton primary in Ipswich, Bungay Primary, Edgar Sewter Primary in Halesworth, Holton St Peter Primary, Ilketshall St Lawrence Primary and Wenhaston Primary.