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Revealed: How deprivation affects education for children in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 05:30 08 July 2019 | UPDATED: 11:05 08 July 2019

Mel Fearns, headteacher at St George's Primary School in Great Yarmouth, with pupils. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

Mel Fearns, headteacher at St George's Primary School in Great Yarmouth, with pupils. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

Archant

Levels of deprivation can significantly affect life for children in Norfolk. Bethany Whymark reports on how it is affecting their education too.

Stuart Allen, Headteacher, Mile Cross Primary School, Norwich. Picture: Jamie HoneywoodStuart Allen, Headteacher, Mile Cross Primary School, Norwich. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

Children being educated in the most disadvantaged parts of Norfolk are losing out compared to their peers at schools in more affluent areas, figures show.

A study of schools data including Ofsted judgements, key stage two attainment and GCSE results at schools across Norfolk shows that those in the most deprived areas generally return poorer results than in the richest neighbourhoods.

Schools in less deprived areas also performed better in Ofsted inspections - in the 10pc and 20pc least deprived areas, all schools bar one were judged good or outstanding, compared with around three-quarters of schools achieving the top two judgements in the 10pc and 20pc most deprived parts.

Out of 19 primary schools in the 10pc most deprived neighbourhoods, only two surpassed the national average for the amount of children meeting expected standards in reading, writing and maths by the age of 11 (64pc).

In the county's most affluent areas, seven out of 10 schools met or surpassed these standards.

At GCSE level the picture was more mixed. At the outstanding-ranked Ormiston Venture Academy in Gorleston - the only high school in an area ranked among the 10pc most deprived - 64pc of students achieved 9 to 4 grades in their GCSEs including English and maths in 2018, approaching the national average of 67pc.

At Thorpe St Andrew School and Sixth Form, also ranked outstanding and in a more deprived area, the rate was 72pc.

Meanwhile at the high schools in areas ranked among the 10pc most affluent, City of Norwich School and Framingham Earl High School, the rates were not substantially different at 68pc and 77pc respectively.

Principal Linda Hothersall at Eastgate Academy at King's Lynn, which is a top-ranked school serving one of Norfolk's most deprived areas. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPrincipal Linda Hothersall at Eastgate Academy at King's Lynn, which is a top-ranked school serving one of Norfolk's most deprived areas. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Raising the bar

For Stuart Allen, long-standing headteacher at Mile Cross Primary School, in one of the country's most deprived areas, improving the quality of teaching is essential in helping his pupils build better futures along with improving attendance.

He said a culture of "low pressure and high expectations" was key to bringing the best out of children whose home lives could be chaotic.

Head teacher at Valley Primary School Sara Bush
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2019Head teacher at Valley Primary School Sara Bush Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019

The amount of pupil premium funding being given to the school - a government top-up given for the most disadvantaged children - is rising, which Mr Allen believes is due to the current economic climate and the introduction of universal credit.

"Although children are coming to us with challenges we don't see those as barriers," he said.

Academic standards at Mile Cross are high, particularly in maths, but the school also focuses on pupils' broader development; it has created an early years outdoor area designed to help children to improve their language and physical skills and all year groups have sessions at a nearby forest school.

Broadening their experiences was also important, he said. "Some of my children don't leave Mile Cross from one week to the next. It is not that they are not aspirational but I want to make sure they know the steps to get there."

Staff development is prioritised: newly qualified teachers are given two years on a four-day timetable, reserving one day for professional development; teachers have regular progress and performance evaluations; and training has been conducted to ensure teachers can support the increasing number of pupils who speak English as an additional language (EAL).

'When I first got here there were a lot of excuses'

At the "outstanding" Eastgate Academy in King's Lynn's, nearly three-quarters of pupils achieve expected standards in maths and English in year six, well above the Norfolk average - thanks in part to its focus on good teaching and professional development.

Mile Cross Primary School, Norwich. Picture: Jamie HoneywoodMile Cross Primary School, Norwich. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

Headteacher Linda Hothersall said: "Over the last eight years we have made sure that we have some really good teaching going on and that is making such a difference.

"There is a wider impact where the children want to come in and want to learn.

"When I first got here 10 years ago there were a lot of excuses made but our children can do anything they want to do and we tell them that. I have children now talking about going to university who previously might not have known what it was.

"The expectations and aspirations are here and the parents are on side."

Pupils enjoying their after hours Art Club at Eastgate Academy at King's Lynn. Eastgate Academy is a top-ranked school serving one of Norfolk's most deprived areas. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPupils enjoying their after hours Art Club at Eastgate Academy at King's Lynn. Eastgate Academy is a top-ranked school serving one of Norfolk's most deprived areas. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Mrs Hothersall said the school tries to do what it can to reduce costs for parents, including subsidising school trips.

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"One of the big things is our children do not go anywhere. We take them to the beach and try to get them out as far as we can to show them other parts of the area - but if you have five children and it's £5 per child that's £25 that these families have not got," she said.

Head teacher at Valley Primary School Sara Bush
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2019Head teacher at Valley Primary School Sara Bush Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019

The importance of opportunity

St George's Primary and Nursery School serves one of the most deprived areas in Great Yarmouth - already a town where many families are hard-up.

Headteacher Mel Fearns said the good-rated school had a significant number of "transient" pupils due to families moving in and out of the area, which affected its performance - around eight of the pupils in its year six cohort who took SATs in May had only joined the school eight months earlier.

"If you compare our results to national we are always below, but we do produce good results. If you look at disadvantaged children often ours are doing better than their peers nationally," she said.

"We employ extra teachers and teaching assistants and we target different year groups if they need a push academically."

The school also has a big extra-curricular programme and organises trips and visitors for pupils.

"Parents are trying to put food on the table, they don't have money to take children out to museums or theatres so we try to give those opportunities to the children," Ms Fearns said.

"Some children come and go, it can be like hot-seating in this school, but if they have a really rich curriculum delivered by the school that is enhancing their life opportunities."

Mile Cross Primary School, Norwich. Picture: Jamie Honeywood Mile Cross Primary School, Norwich. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

'We welcome our families in'

At Valley Primary School in Earlham, almost half its pupils (48pc) are eligible for pupil premium funding.

The school, part of the Heart Education Trust, employs a full-time pastoral manager and a wellbeing practitioner to help disadvantaged pupils with social and emotional problems.

Mel Fearns, headteacher at St George's Primary School in Great Yarmouth. Picture: Victoria PertusaMel Fearns, headteacher at St George's Primary School in Great Yarmouth. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

Headteacher Sara Bush said: "We have an open-door policy whereby we welcome our families in to discuss what's working well or any worries they might have."

Much of the school's pupil premium budget is dedicated to giving children new experiences, from learning a musical instrument to karate and bushcraft, and trips out.

It also got funding from the Norwich Opportunity Area scheme to set up a mini farm, which Mrs Bush said was helping develop the children's understanding of nurture and responsibility.

She added: "We work hard to build self-confidence, respect - for ourselves and others - and resilience in all our children. We also have to raise aspirations in order for our children to see that they have the potential to achieve great things."

The 'nurture element'

Like many others serving deprived communities, Mile Cross Primary offers domestic help such as washing clothes, providing uniforms and offering free breakfasts.

But headteacher Stuart Allen feels the key to the school's success is not using the children's disadvantage "as an excuse".

"We provide that nurture aspect because we need to and parents know we do, but it is key to make sure we are subtle about it. It is hard to put your hand up and admit you need help," he said.

St George's Primary in Great Yarmouth employs its own full-time social worker and a parent support advisor, which headteacher Mel Fearns said helped stabilise pupil's families and consequently stabilise their education.

"A lot of our deprived families are also in crisis for some reason; it could be domestic violence, mental health, housing, cash flow," she said.

"Children cannot learn if they are in a heightened state because of what is happening at home."

But Ms Fearns said her approach was more focused on "giving parents tools to help themselves" and signposting them to services than using the school as a one-stop shop.

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