Government’s ‘tunnel vision’ in education is failing to help children in deprived areas, shadow schools minister warns


The shadow minister for schools has warned that the government’s “tunnel vision” in education is failing to help children in deprived areas, who face a rising tide of socio-economic issues that impact on their schooling.

Wes Streeting MP said that while Opportunity Areas (a Department for Education programme designed to raise social mobility) had “some fantastic people involved in them”, their current focus was too narrow.

He added that a ‘recovery’ in education would not take place without addressing issues faced by disadvantaged children beyond the school gate.

In a speech to Northern education leaders today {Thursday 11 March} he is expected to say, “For all the talk of levelling up, there is still a postcode lottery in England today.”

“We are seeing more children experiencing deeper disadvantage and poorer life chances, disproportionately concentrated in the North of England.

“This isn’t levelling up. It’s levelling down the prospects for kids across the North and the communities they’re growing up in.”

“Place matters.

“Opportunity Areas are the Government’s answer to this challenge and, while there are some fantastic people involved in them, they’re simply not up to the scale of the challenge.

“Their focus and funding is too short-term and there are far more than 12 areas in need.

“But, fundamentally, the Government isn’t thinking ambitiously enough, or long-term enough, about how the fortunes of towns and communities are tied into educational outcomes and vice versa.”

His comments come in light of findings from NPP which revealed that children in disadvantaged communities were facing a “barrage of interdependent place-based problems.”

Analysing secondary schools with high proportions of long-term disadvantaged pupils, our report measured criteria that make up the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD), including:

  • Health deprivation & disability
  • Education, skills & training
  • Crime
  • Employment
  • Income

NPP concluded that addressing the root causes of disadvantage in poorer areas through bringing together local services, as those like Sir Howard Bernstein outlined the case for in Greater Manchester in devolution, if rolled out across the North to improve education standards and promote further social mobility.

In 2016 the Department for Education (DfE) identified twelve ‘Opportunity Areas’ most in need of support using a range of indicators, primarily based on education.

The aim was to increase social mobility in some of the UK’s most disadvantaged communities through focusing national and local resources.

As the sole responsibility of the Department for Education, Opportunity Areas are limited in their scope, the NPP argues, and initiatives such as catch-up tutoring and Pupil Premium will only go so far in raising educational standards.

Wes Streeting MP sad: “The government’s tunnel vision approach to education – which often ignores the wider contextual factors at play – risks failing children in some of the country’s most disadvantaged communities.

“Children in these areas are fighting a battle on multiple fronts: poor health, high crime, a lack of good quality jobs for when they leave school.

“Many young people are trapped in a vicious cycle where their opportunities are limited simply because of where they were born.”

Sarah Mulholland, head of policy at the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “We need to recognise that school interventions alone will not solve the underlying issues at the root of the education disadvantage gap.

“Children are facing a barrage of interdependent place-based problems, all of which impact on education and so from housing to health must be included when intervening.

“A one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t work. The clear regional disparities we see in the data mean that we need tailored, Metro Mayor driven approach for a new wave and transformed existing Opportunity Areas to be truly effective.

“Deciding area-based funding should be based on evidence – not on politics.”

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