The Long Shadow of Deprivation report (2020) highlights the pay gap differences between areas of our country and between the most and least deprived sons found in the same area.
The report identified that greater interventions were needed in the local labour market, and called for employers to look at ways that they can access ‘talent at their doorstep’. In a recent article titled, ‘Tackling barriers to learning for disadvantaged students’, Dr Ann Limb wrote, ‘Employers and businesses are now more attuned to the existence of real disadvantage and the moral case for tackling injustice, and many have also realised that there is an untapped talent pool of hard-working resilient graduates on their doorstep.’
I recently joined a special school in Mansfield, part of The Evolve Trust, working as a specialist teacher on the senior leadership team. Notably, the Beech Academy is one of the highest performing special schools in the country. With core values of Ambition, Integrity, Inclusivity, Endeavour, and Resilience, the curriculum seeks to enhance the social mobility chances of all pupils.
The Long Shadow of Deprivation report identified the median earnings for sons aged 28 in Mansfield as just £12,600. According to new data, published by the House of Commons Library, Mansfield currently ranks 117th in the country (1 being the most deprived, and 533 being the least deprived) for its levels of deprivation. Mansfield also ranks 62nd in the country in terms of ‘education, skills and training’, making it one of the most deprived areas in this bracket.
The Beech Academy, and Evolve Trust, is conscious of these socio-economic issues in Mansfield, including high unemployment and low adult literacy levels. Almost two thirds of adults in Mansfield are overweight or obese (64%), and life expectancy for both men and women is lower than the England average (9.0 years lower for men and 6.8 years lower for women in the most deprived areas of Mansfield than in the least deprived areas).
This contextual information drives Beech Academy’s vision, ‘To open minds, creating opportunities for all to believe in themselves, achieve their potential and develop the skills needed to succeed and enjoy life’. The curriculum is purposeful, driven through expertise and passion, and widens the experiences and choices for disadvantaged pupils to become contributing citizens.
I am reminded of my own experiences of disadvantage whilst at college, during a time of massive instability. During my first year of study, I lived in a homeless hostel in Chorley, sharing an environment with many vulnerable people including drug users and ex-offenders. I depended on a weekly Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) of £30, which I mostly spent on necessities, such as food and hygiene products. EMA was later cut in 2010 as part of a programme of budget cuts.
Again, in a separate article, Dr Ann Limb highlighted food poverty as a barrier to learning. A timely piece, as Marcus Rashford’s school meals petition passes one million signatures. Whilst at college, I relied on a meal card, which granted me £2.50 a day to spend on food in the canteen. Without this, I would have gone hungry, as I often did during the weekends and half term holidays.
In 2009, I was lucky to have been awarded a Helena Kennedy Foundation (HKF) scholarship, which gave me a life-changing opportunity to transform my life and study a teacher training course at Edge Hill University. The HKF charity, originally founded by Dr Ann Limb, relies on organisations, such as NCFE and the Skills & Education Group, to advocate for social justice in education and support the charity through sponsorship and other types of partnership which enable disadvantaged students to gain valuable experiences and opportunities to develop skills. The Learning Worked report (2020), commissioned by the Helena Kennedy Foundation, shares a number of real-life stories that captures how funding and support enables some of the most disadvantaged learners to access higher education and progress into employment.
Many of the students who have benefitted from the financial support and mentorship at HKF, have in turn become inspired to give back to others. I feel incredibly honoured to have been selected to join the charity as a trustee, and I feel passionate about co-creating positive change which provides equal opportunities for everyone.
As the Long Shadow of Deprivation report identified, high quality education is a key factor for increasing social mobility, but more interventions are needed to translate this into meaningful employment. Why is England, as the report describes, a ‘postcode lottery’? And how can the local labour market work more closely with schools to uncover potential and local talent?
I feel inspired and encouraged by the Beech Academy’s commitment to enhance social mobility chances for disadvantaged pupils, and I look forward to seeing how the Government uses the evidence and recommendations provided in the Long Shadow of Deprivation report to enact place-based interventions.
Mica is currently fundraising for Lilya’s Lighthouses, a social movement set up in memory of her younger sister, Lilya. Can you make a contribution? Find out more here.