Government committed to level up opportunities, says Universities Minister Michelle Donelan

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has pledged that the Government is committed to its levelling-up agenda amid mounting pressure to expand a pioneering educational scheme in Yorkshire across the North of England.

Friday, 18th September 2020, 2:25 pm

Michelle Donelan was in the Yorkshire region yesterday to witness first-hand the benefits which the Opportunity Areas programme that she oversees has brought to students in Bradford, Doncaster and in the North Yorkshire coast communities.

The scheme has seen attainment levels rise faster than the national average as part of the Government’s drive to boost social mobility in more deprived areas.

Ms Donelan, who was the first in her family to go to university, said: “This Government was elected on a mandate to level up the UK, across the board – including in Yorkshire.

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Boris Johnson at last year's Convention of the North in Rotherham. Pic: Getty Images

“We want to ensure any child, no matter where they are born, has the same opportunities, the same choices, the same chances.

“We have seen some really promising signs of progress, in the North Yorkshire Opportunity Area, but certainly there is a long way to go.

“The Opportunity Areas play a vital role in helping to level up society and combat that North-South divide.”

During her visit yesterday, Ms Donelan was in Scarborough and met teachers and students from Friarage Community Primary School.

Pictured, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan

The North Yorkshire Opportunity Area has seen £600,000 invested in projects to support speech, language and communication needs and supported 500 children as sessions moved online during the coronavirus pandemic.

Speech and language therapists have carried out virtual assessments and support for children.

A special report in The Yorkshire Post last month highlighted calls from education leaders for the Government to expand the Opportunity Areas programme across the whole of the North.

Leaders in Yorkshire said long-term investment in education and empowering more local communities was needed across the North of England to tackle inequalities.

Pictured Minister Michelle Donelan (right), with Sir Martin Narey (left), chair of the North Yorkshire Coast Opportunity Area Partnership Board, during Ms Donelan's trip to the region yesterday (17 September 2020).

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said that without targeted investment, the nation will “witness another generation of children who fall behind, fall out of school, and don’t reach their potential”.

Justine Greening, the Rotherham-born former MP for Putney who introduced the programme while she was Education Secretary, has also called for the Autumn Budget to include 100 new Opportunity Areas.

Ms Donelan said: “I fully appreciate the concerns here, but one of the key ways we can change that is by driving up attainment, driving up standards in our schools.

“Our primary goal was to level up this country. Opportunity Areas is a vital way of achieving that – it is one of the tools in the tool box.”

Pictured Minister Michelle Donelan (right) as Vice-Chancellor, Professor Charlie Jeffery, started the visit with a tour of The Forest, a Covid-secure outdoor arena on campus which is under construction for the start of term.Photo credit: The University of York.

As part of her trip to the region, Ms Donelan also visited the University of York to see some of the measures which are being taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus among students.

During the visit, the Minister – a University of York alumna – also heard about the university’s research into mental health and initiatives in boosting social mobility.

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Charlie Jeffery, greeted the Minister and started the visit with a tour of The Forest, a Covid-secure outdoor arena on campus which is under construction for the start of term.

Also during the visit Professor Tracy Lightfoot, the incoming Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching, Learning and Students, explained how the University is using technology to enhance the learning experience during the pandemic through the provision of online courses and communities.

"We are very proud of what we have achieved, in what has been a very short space of time," she told the Minister.

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James Mitchinson