Sarah Champion Speaks in a Debate on Social mobility
This week, the Children’s Commissioner highlighted the huge gaps that exist between the poorest children in the North and the poorest in London.
Her report found that a child on free school meals living in Hackney is three times more likely to go to university than a child on free school meals from Hartlepool.
London children on free school meals are 40% more likely to achieve a good maths and English GSCE than children in the North.
It is therefore no wonder that London accounts for nearly two-thirds of all social mobility hotspots.
Rotherham, in contrast, ranks 188th out of 324 local authority areas for social mobility and has the seventh highest secondary school exclusion rates in the country.
The Children’s Commissioner found that too many children are dropping out of education and training before 18, with several northern cities having more than 10% of children miss out on crucial parts of their education.
London is an excellent example of what can be achieved with the right strategy and the right funding.
A 2014 Centre for London report found that Labour’s London Challenge policy was a key driver of the dramatic improvement in London’s schools.
So why is the London success story not being replicated up and down the country?
Surely all our children deserve the same start in life, whether they are born in Rotherham or Redbridge.
The APPG on Social Mobility recognised that social mobility is improved through education and high-quality teaching, yet its former chair now leads a department that is cutting school funding by 4.6% between 2015 and 2019.
Across England, over half a million primary school children are in super-sized classes.
Paul Whiteman, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, has warned, I quote,
"it will now be impossible for many schools to avoid making redundancies (and) to continue to keep class sizes at an acceptable level"
In Rotherham, between 2014/15 and 2016/17, class sizes rose in more than half of our schools and the pupil to teacher ratio rose in two thirds.
Why is this? We have to assume that to try deal with the cuts, the schools were losing staff. This is backed up by the fact that, in the same period, 57% of schools in Rotherham had to cut staff.
Whilst the Government talk of a fairer funding formula, between 2015/16 and 2019/20, schools in Rotherham will have suffered cuts of nearly £3 million.
Another issue we cannot ignore is the economic environment children find themselves in.
I am pleased that the Children’s Commissioner’s recognised that Northern children are proud and optimistic, but, as her report found, many lacked confidence that economic regeneration will mean more jobs or opportunities for them.
We need a Government that nourishes, not neglects, our children ambitions and aspirations.
Rotherham ranks 119th out of 650 constituencies on the highest number of young people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit.
According to the Office for National Statistics, nationally, productivity growth over the past 10 years was the weakest since modern records began and appears to be the slowest since the early 1820s.
We have some fantastic businesses in Britain, indeed in Rotherham, but there is a serious skills shortage.
Analysis by the Centre for Cities has shown that British cities make up 11 of the 50 lowest-skilled cities in Europe, and a recent survey from the British Chambers of Commerce found that skills shortages were reaching “critical levels” in the last quarter of 2017.
How will we address productivity if we are not training our young people in the skills needed for a modern economy?
Many of my businesses are in manufacturing. They recognise that they have an aging work force and are desperate to recruit young apprentices. Yet there is a gap between the workplace needs and the aspirations and skills of young people.
We desperately need to restore this aspiration in towns like Rotherham. Meaningful investment is urgently needed so that young people know they have the opportunity and support to reach their potential.
At the last election, Labour committed to introducing free, lifelong education in Further Education colleges and set a target to double the number of completed apprenticeships at NVQ level 3.
Labour have also pledged to abolish unpaid internships, which The Sutton Trust has said act as a barrier to social mobility.
Last year, the Sutton Trust placed high quality early years education for disadvantaged children at the top of their ‘Mobility Manifesto’.
This makes it all the more concerning, that the ‘Growing Up North’ report by the Children’s Commissioner found that too many children in the North from disadvantaged backgrounds are starting school below the expected level of development.
The report recognised the vital role that Sure Starts and Family Hubs play in providing support for families to give their children the best start in life, and is clear that a renewed focus on early-intervention is crucial.
In 2012, the APPG on Social Mobility found that ‘the point of greatest leverage for social mobility is what happens between the ages of 0 and 3’.
The then Chair of that APPG is now the Education Secretary.
Last week he acknowledged the ‘importance of early years for children’s development, social mobility and narrowing the gap’, so how can he stand up and defend a Government that has seen 1,240 Sure Start close since 2010?
I am proud that Rotherham have fought to defend our Sure Start centres, but Tory cuts to local authorities have resulted in funding for Sure Start being halved over eight years.
Theresa May claimed that social mobility was her central goal yet the Tories have slashed funding for early years, schools, and adult learning.
Apprenticeships fell by 59% last year and child poverty is at record levels.
How can it be that in the 5th richest country in the world, your place of birth matters more than your abilities?
Our young people deserve better.