The rate of child poverty in Wokingham Borough at 10% is well below the UK average of 28%. However, more needs to be done. Could the Executive Member set out what steps she and her department can take to continue to life our Borough’s children out of the blight of poverty?
The rate of child poverty in Wokingham Borough at 10% is well below the UK average of 28%. However, more needs to be done. Could the Executive Member set out what steps she and her department can take to continue to lift our Borough’s children out of the blight of poverty?
Thank you for raising the important subject of child poverty – an area of priority for which we adopt two main approaches:
1. an immediate factor in child poverty is the lack of sufficient income from parental employment, including worklessness and working insufficient hours and / or low pay;
2. for the future, educational achievement is key to breaking the cycle of poverty.
To support families, Wokingham is part of the Troubled Families Programme, one of whose criteria is risk of worklessness. An Employment Advisor is seconded to Wokingham to work with identified families, offer advice on their benefit status and support them back into training or employment. A Specialist Health Practitioner from Berkshire Healthcare Foundation Trust will also support the family to ensure they get the right healthcare.
Our Children’s Centres have worked with partners such as the Health Visiting Team, Community Development and Community Wards. The Children’s Centres have engaged with and made a positive difference to the lives of the children and families living in these areas.
We are aware that being in poverty in Wokingham can lead to feelings of isolation and deprivation. So core elements of our social work practice framework are designed to breakdown feelings of isolation by working with families and their support network, encouraging them to draw on their social capital and find solutions to the difficulties they face.
For children’s futures, educational achievement is key to breaking the cycle of poverty. We support schools to narrow achievement gaps and improve the performance of disadvantaged pupils. Because overall performance is very high in Wokingham, the achievement gaps are wider than elsewhere. The 2016 data isn’t all released yet, but in 2015, the gap for five good GCSEs including English and maths was 31% in Wokingham, and 27% nationally. In fact though our disadvantaged pupils did better than their national peers (Our figure was 39% - it was 36% nationally). The rate of progress during secondary school was higher too in Wokingham than nationally, and we had the same success in Key Stage 1.
Officers have led action research on transition from primary to secondary school, showcased good practice, worked with partners, and brought learning back from national and regional fora. Termly meetings for narrowing the gap leaders are held, and the team is working in partnership with Wellington College to provide a training event. Officers attend meetings with other authorities, and are organising a pan-Berkshire narrowing the gap conference for the spring. Early years officers are working with school and nursery leaders, as well as colleagues in health and community development, to produce materials to support parents to ensure that their children are ‘school-ready’.
The impact of all this has been recognised by the Department for Education and Ofsted. Maiden Erlegh School won the Department for Education’s Pupil Premium Award for the south east region this year. Inspection reports include comments like: ‘Disadvantaged pupils catch up quickly because of well-judged support. Previous gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers have closed completely.’ (Winnersh Primary, May 2016) ‘The proportion of disadvantaged pupils achieving expected levels in the Year 1 phonics check has doubled since the previous inspection.’ (All Saints Primary, September 2016). Officers had worked closely with these schools.
More impact - the percentage of Wokingham’s disadvantaged children achieving a good level of development at foundation stage went from 35% in 2014 to 51% in 2016. The phonics result at age 6 increased from 42% in 2013 to 56% in 2015, and looks like being about 65% this year. The figure for reading, writing and maths at the end of primary school increased from 53% in 2013 to 60% in 2015 and is in line with national peers in 2016.
We know we still have work to do. Despite improvements in phonics, outcomes for disadvantaged children remain below national.In 2016, KS1 attainment for children eligible for FSM was below national, and gaps were larger. We know from Ofsted that this is a particular challenge in wealthy areas with low numbers of disadvantaged families. We are going to be part of a new working group of similar authorities looking at this.
In summary, work on reducing children living in poverty underpins the work carried out in Children’s Services. As a Council, we continue to strive to close achievement gaps and reduce the poverty rate, with the intended outcome of supporting all children and young people in Wokingham to feel listened to, be safe and have an opportunity to live their lives to their full potential.