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The city schools letting students call the shots in effort boost social mobility

Members of the Norwich Opportunity Area Youth Board gave a presentation to the city's leaders and headteachers. Picture: Lesley Richardson/DfE

Members of the Norwich Opportunity Area Youth Board gave a presentation to the city's leaders and headteachers. Picture: Lesley Richardson/DfE

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Norwich students could be calling more of the disciplinary shots in their schools in an effort to improve social mobility.

Members of the Norwich Opportunity Area Youth Board put suggestions including a clampdown on poor behaviour and restricting mobile phone use in schools to their headteachers in a bid to improve outcomes for them and their peers.

It follows a visit by the 35 pupils, aged 11 to 17, to Southend-on-Sea to investigate the town's rapid rise in social mobility since 2016.

During their three-day trip the students from University Technical College Norfolk, Open Academy, Notre Dame High School, The Hewett Academy, City of Norwich School and Sewell Park Academy visited Eastwood Academy, South Essex Further Education College and Southend Adult Community College to see what work pupils and staff were doing to support disadvantaged students.

Ideas from these meetings - which were presented to a panel of headteachers on Wednesday - included single sex classes to help students focus and more robust and consistently applied behaviour policies to build respect between pupils and staff.

A mobile phone ban attracted mixed opinions - some found it encouraged more sociable and courteous behaviour in Southend's students, but a young carer explained why he needs to have his phone.

Alicia Evans, a year 10 student at Sewell Park Academy, said: "The key thing is about mutual respect between teachers and students and a shared motivation and general desire for students to do well.

"It's a two-way thing, balancing teaching and making it fun so it keeps students engaged and helps build the confidence of those who might be too anxious to speak up in class."

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Morgan Watts, a year nine pupil at City of Norwich School, said: "Our voices are being heard now so in future younger ones like my siblings will have a better life and school experience. For teachers having that connection with kids will be a better experience too."

Neil Cully, headteacher at Notre Dame High School, said he was especially interested in mechanisms the students had observed in Southend to give pupils a more prominent voice in school and to build mutual respect between staff and students.

"At Notre Dame we advocate that respect and try to maintain a level of respect," he said.

Social mobility in Norwich

The Norwich Opportunity Area scheme - one of 12 such schemes launched in social mobility "cold spots" around the UK since October 2017 - aims to improve the life chances of young people from deprived backgrounds in the city.

Two other areas in East Anglia, Ipswich and Fenland and East Cambridgeshire, were selected for the Department for Education (DfE) programme.

According to the DfE, Norwich rose 29 places in the national social mobility index from 323rd in 2016 to 294th in 2017. For the percentage of children eligible for free school meals achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths, the city rose 27 places in the same period from 313th to 286th.

Tim Coulson, Norwich Opportunity Area Partnership Board chairman, said the students' suggestions to improve the substance and enforcement of their schools' behaviour policies were "are at the heart of the issues the Opportunity Area is trying to tackle".

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