Education secretary says scheme to help social mobility in Norwich is ‘good and focused’
PUBLISHED: 18:03 12 October 2018 | UPDATED: 18:03 12 October 2018
The education secretary has reiterated his faith in a programme which hopes to help children in deprived parts of Norwich achieve better educational outcomes.
In a visit to the city Damian Hinds spoke about the Opportunity Areas scheme, which he said was a “good, focused programme” which prioritises local decision-making for the benefit of pupils.
Initiated by former education secretary Justine Greening a year ago, the scheme targeted 12 areas with particularly low educational attainment, including in Norwich and Ipswich.
During a visit to City College Norwich on Friday, Mr Hinds attended a meeting of partners involved in the Norwich Opportunity Area.
Mr Hinds, the first chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on social mobility, said ensuring equal opportunities for children was “a subject very close to my heart”.
“It is about looking at the specific circumstances in individual places, getting people together – the local government, businesses, schools, colleges – and saying what can we do to show young people the full range of opportunities open to them, to make sure that whatever the background that they come from these opportunities should be open to them,” he said.
“Obviously it is not the only thing we are doing on social mobility, but it is an important part of that and I think it is a really good, focused programme.”
“It is not about people in London telling people in Norwich that this should happen. It is about asking people in Norwich what can be created and done locally to make a real difference for people locally.”
Mr Hinds also toured the college to see some departments which will teach the new T-Levels qualifications, a vocational equivalent of A-Levels which will be introduced in a number of schools and colleges in 2020.
The college is also one of 37 education providers benefiting from the £5m Taking Teaching Further fund to recruit industry professionals to its teaching staff.
Mr Hinds said T-Levels were a “key part” of the government’s educational reforms alongside a renewed focus on apprenticeships in recent years.
“We have record low unemployment, but we still need to get up our productivity, we still need to get up our skill level to support that,” he said.
“Apprenticeships is a part of that and T-Levels is a big part of that as well.
“That is the mainly college-based course, mainly for people aged 16 to 18. It will also include a significant industrial placement and elements of English, maths and digital, which is also quite similar to how it is done in some of the leading countries in the world in this area, so I think T-Levels is a really key part of our reforms.”
‘We need help from industry’
City College Norwich will be among the first schools and colleges to offer T-Levels when the qualifications are introduced in 2020.
Departments including construction will be offering the courses, which, like A-Levels, are designed for 16 to 18-year-olds.
Stephen Carr, head of construction at City College, said the structure of T-Levels – which include a 350-hour work placement – would supplement the college’s apprenticeship courses.
He said its construction courses, from bricklaying to plumbing, were growing in popularity with the number of enrolled students doubling in the past five years to 500.
But recruiting staff was difficult, he said. “Experts are in very short supply and in an industry where people are earning good money, to encourage them out of it is quite challenging.
“The construction industry needs skilled people, and to get young people skilled in time is going to need help from industry.”