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Opinion: Giving children more opportunities in life

Social mobility is particularly poor in Scarborough.
Social mobility is particularly poor in Scarborough.

I live in Whitby – it is an area I love and choose to call home. For a long time it has saddened me that Whitby, Scarborough and Filey are areas in which young people don’t realise the same opportunities to get on in life as they do in other parts of the country. I believe we can do something about this.

I was born in Middlesbrough in the 1950s. Although no one knew it at the time, I was fortunate to be born into a period of rapid social mobility. My father was a labourer in the Teesside steelworks but I enjoyed opportunities of which he could only dream. I was able to climb the social mobility ladder into more rewarding – and much easier – jobs. Social mobility has since slowed in this country and it’s particularly poor here in this area, as has been highlighted by the Social Mobility Commission.

We know that our children and young people here on the coast are born with no less potential than other children up and down the country. But, for too many, ambition and aspiration does not blossom and they don’t achieve as well as children and young people do elsewhere.

So I was delighted to accept an invitation from Justine Greening, the then Education Secretary, to chair the North Yorkshire Coast Opportunity Area Board – part of the Department for Education’s flagship social mobility programme and which includes 11 other areas in the country.

We have created a programme board drawn from professionals across the area and have drafted a plan that we think will make a difference. This has followed extensive work to look at current performance, identifying where there are particular problems in our area, and then identifying what works in other parts of the country. Our plan, which was published in October 2017, sets out four priorities and details practical things we will improve over the next three years.

It begins with providing great early years education so children are ready for school. This will mean helping nurseries and other providers to improve how they interact with children and to develop strong speech and language skills. We can’t shy away from offering more support to parents and carers too so they can help their children’s early development.

The plan also sets out two further ambitions that have an impact on later life: maths and literacy. Too many of our disadvantaged children and young people are being left behind in these essential subjects. We are establishing a maths centre to train teachers in world-class approaches to maths teaching. We will also launch a literacy campaign across the area in the spring. We expect this campaign to have a significant impact and nurture a love of reading in children, young people and their families.

Our fourth priority is to enable more young people to attend good or outstanding schools. We will support the improvement journeys for schools which need to do better. This will mean that 2,000 more young people are attending a good or better school by the end of the programme. We will promote this area as a great place to live and work for new and experienced teachers.

We have already started this work; the new approach to maths teaching has been launched with primary schools; there is support for early years settings led by an outstanding nursery school in Scarborough; we have engaged a group of committed employers from the area to give young people encounters with the world of work; and we are helping more young people to access The National Citizen Service. This year we will be launching a programme to provide free out of school activities for our most disadvantaged children to develop essential life skills of team work, resilience and self-confidence.

I have been asked regularly what success will look like. Many have been shocked when I have talked about some young people venturing away from the coast in my answer – whether that is in pursuit of work, university education or travel. We can’t pretend that our area will deliver opportunities for everyone and meet all ambitions –neither can Leeds, Manchester or London. But what we can do, and will do, is equip our young people with a brilliant education that means they can achieve their dreams in life, wherever that may take them.

Follow our journey @coastOA.