There is no doubt that a good education is the most important route out of poverty for many children.
Any approach to tackling child poverty will need to ensure that children have access to an exceptional standard of formal education and the extra-curricular activities that provide experience and inspiration to aim high.
Our young people must have the opportunity to attend a good school, which helps them access a broad curriculum, make good progress and prepare for their next steps in life.
There is also the need for inspiration. Children should have the opportunity to meet people from Barnsley who have gone on to achieve great things. If we are to break the cycle of poverty that is the reality for many families, it is necessary for children to understand that there are no barriers to what they can achieve. Allowing them to meet and be inspired by those who have gone before will help to ensure they do not set unnecessary limits on themselves. Role models and mentoring are key to making this happen.
Learning: what can be done?
I work closely with head teachers of both secondary and primary schools, supporting their plans to improve our schools and campaigning on their behalf whenever it is useful.
Currently there is no automatic registration of pupils for schools entitled to £1,320 of Pupil Premium funding. This has been proposed in a Bill by Frank Field MP. If this is not successful, I will be supporting other attempts to bring in this legislation. It is heartening to see councillors in St Helen’s ward distributing leaflets encouraging families to sign up to free school meals.
Some organisations, such as Action Tutoring, offer educational support to pupils at schools which have a high rate of Pupil Premium students. They are always looking for volunteers to spare an hour or two to tutor in Maths or English. This could be an excellent way for local residents, particularly those who are retired, to contribute directly to the fight against child poverty.
A child who lives in a household where a parent is engaged with their school work stands a much better chance of doing well at school. I have been a keen promoter of parents reading with children and believe that men, in particular, should be encouraged to be role models for reading – and that ‘real men read’.
I am delighted that my Proud of Barnsley campaign is still going strong and supported by the Barnsley Chronicle. Every year, a prize is awarded to a Young Superstar. This award recognises the many achievements of children and young people in our borough, aiming to challenge stereotypes and highlight the young role models who positively influence their peers.
I am a supporter of Team Activ, a great local organisation working with young people to develop their self-confidence through physical activity programmes.
I am also extremely proud to be Patron of Barnsley Youth Choir. This fantastic organisation brings together over 250 young people from a variety of backgrounds, encourages them to be the best that they can be and gives them a brilliant opportunity to be part of one of the top youth choirs in the UK. Their recent success in both the European and World Choir Games gave many of their members their first trip outside of the UK.
For all of these opportunities, money is often the first barrier. Some organisations have fundraisers working all year round. This is an area where our local community could have a real impact – perhaps by setting up bursary schemes, and contributing to local fundraising efforts.