Too many pupils in Ipswich have been left behind – this is a chance to change that

Suffolk schools have been amongst the poorest funded in the country, says Clare Flintoff. Picture:

Suffolk schools have been amongst the poorest funded in the country, says Clare Flintoff. Picture: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. - Credit: PA

Ipswich is ranked 292 out of 324 local authority districts for social mobility based on data from 2014 and 2015; a social mobility index that is being used by the government to identify the areas in most need of ‘opportunity funding’.

In January, Justine Greening made the announcement that the town would be able to access £6 million of funding to help improve social mobility.

Although this was put on hold during the election period, the DfE have quickly picked up the reins again and are gathering the views of Ipswich stakeholders with another meeting planned for today with representatives from community groups, all phases of education and other agencies.

The question is, how should the money be spent in order to have the best impact on improving the life chances of our young people so that they can successfully progress from early years, through the education system and into employment?

Last week the Social Mobility Commission, an independent body, published their report on the progress, or lack of it, that has been made nationally over the last 20 years to improve social mobility.

“Time for change” is essential reading for all of us involved in the work we are about to undertake in Ipswich especially as it encourages us to learn lessons from the past.

The report uses traffic light, “Red, Amber, Green” ratings to judge the success of policies used by successive governments to positively impact on social mobility. Overall only seven policies are rated ‘Green’, 14 are ‘Amber’ and 16 get a ‘Red’ rating.

Most Read

The report recognises that the attainment gap in the early years has recently begun to shrink but that, at the current rate of progress, it will take another 15 years before all children are school ready and “40 years before the attainment gap between poor five-year-olds and their better-off counterparts is closed”.

Depressingly, since the recession, child poverty is on the rise with no sign of it reversing. For school age children, there are mixed results with some good news at the primary level where the commission report that “there has been significant progress in reducing the attainment gap between poorer pupils and their better-off classmates at primary school” but the gap only widens at secondary.

However, it is important to note that this is national data and we know from recently gathered Ipswich pupil attainment data that the situation is far worse in the town and has been ‘hidden’ within Suffolk data.

In 2014 the percentage of poorer children in Ipswich (those eligible for free school meals) who achieved five good GCSEs, including English and Maths, was 23% – compared to a national figure of 30%.

The same is true in primary with 52% of these children achieving at least a Level 4 in reading, writing and maths at the end of primary school compared to 62% nationally.

This data puts Ipswich in the bottom sextile nationally. The data shows that we are also in the bottom sixth in the country when it comes to the median weekly salary of employees who live in Ipswich and the percentage of families with children who own their own home.

In the 2016 White Paper the government published an index of the strength of the school system in each local authority district which ranked Ipswich 314 out of 324.

Again this was based on pupil attainment results but it also considered the capacity of the schools and the quality of leadership.

Suffolk schools have been amongst the poorest funded schools in the country and there simply haven’t been the resources to spend in areas of greatest need. As a result Ipswich has suffered. We do know that when funding and additional support is focused in areas of high need then it is possible to make a difference. We have seen this happen in London schools over the last two decades.

The Rt Hon Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said: “As the general election seems to demonstrate, the public mood is sour and whole tracts of Britain feel left behind. There is a mood for change in Britain.”

I believe that many people in Ipswich feel the same. Let us ensure that the Ipswich Opportunity Funding is spent wisely and the people of Ipswich show what they can achieve.

- Clare Flintoff is Executive Principal at ASSET Education, a local Multi-Academy Trust (MAT), that runs 8 primary schools in Suffolk.