It is simply unacceptable that in modern Britain people living in disadvantaged areas continue to suffer poorer outcomes than those of their more affluent peers. In Newham and the surrounding east London boroughs which hosted the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, residents die younger, earn less, have fewer qualifications and are more likely to be unemployed than the average Londoner.
Newham has one of the youngest and most diverse populations in the country – with more than 200 dialects spoken in our schools it is a dynamic and aspirational place to live. We are also the second most deprived borough in the country. I know our families work hard to provide the best foundations for their children, often under incredibly challenging circumstances. But for some opportunities available to children in other parts of the capital can seem out of reach.
All children should have the right to the best start in life so they are fully equipped to succeed in the modern economy. This is why, despite savage cuts to local authority budgets, if I am re-elected I will continue investing in our young people so they can achieve their full potential no matter what their socioeconomic background.
As part of my mayoral promises to residents I introduced the Newham Reading Guarantee in 2011 to help all pupils aged five to seven improve their literacy. The guarantee comprises three elements:
- Teaching of reading in schools using a structured phonics programme
- Reading volunteers from the local businesses to help children develop their confidence and enjoyment of reading
- One-to-one tuition to help children who are falling behind their peers
I have a strong belief in evidence-based practice to ensure that the policies we implement are as effective as possible. So we are working with Staffordshire University to conduct an independent evaluation of the key element of the guarantee. Initial findings show impressive results, demonstrating that the one-to-one support has nearly doubled improvement in Year 1 pupils who were falling behind with reading.
Literacy is fundamental to a child’s development and ability to navigate the challenges of modern life. However, I also believe our children should have access to wider opportunities that can increase confidence, social skills and provide a broader view of the world.
The Newham Reading Guarantee forms part of my Newham Every Child programme, which provides access to a good mix of academic and social education.
- Newham was the first local authority in the country to fund universal free school meals for all primary school children
- All children in Year 5 get a free musical instrument and three years’ free tuition through Newham’s Every Child a Musician
- Newham’s Every Child a Sports Person provides Year 7 pupils with access to more than 20 sports as part of their school PE curriculum
- And we are developing an Every Child a Theatre Goer programme of world-class theatre experiences linked to the curriculum. This year all of our year 10s will see Shakespeare at the Globe
Over the past decade, educational achievement has improved significantly across the borough. I strongly believe this is down to the quality of Newham’s schools – their heads and staff – combined with continued council investment in a strong universal offer. However, I have serious concerns that as more schools are removed from the local authority family this kind of coordinated programme will be harder to implement. Newham’s Every Child programme demonstrates the strategic role local authorities can and should play in education. It has added value to educational attainment and helped us fulfil our duty to provide young people with opportunities that those in other boroughs may take for granted.
Robin Wales is mayor of Newham
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