Today it will be announced by the Secretary of State for Education that Fenland and East Cambridgeshire will be one of 12 areas to secure a total of £72 million, as new social mobility “opportunity areas”.
A few months ago, on 4th October 2016, the Department for Education announced the first six areas out of a suggested 10 areas who would share in £60 million of extra funding. Fenland was not one of the six.
I received a tip off that day from Brookes Weston Trust who manage the Thomas Clarkson Academy, who expressed their understandable disappointment that Fenland had missed out. I immediately contacted the Schools Minister Nick Gibb to ask for an explanation, speaking later that day to his official with responsibility for the social mobility programme.
Four places were still to be allocated, and I felt it important that Fenland and East Cambs should be more actively considered. As an office, my team and I then set about an intense week of research, contacting local schools, Fenland District Council, and Cambridgeshire County Council for social economic data to support our pitch for inclusion.
The next week, on Thursday 13th October, I presented a paper to the Schools Minister Nick Gibb at his office in the Department for Education. This set out comparative data between Fenland and Norwich (which was one of the first six to have been awarded the funding), and explained why we should be included in the remaining four. The Schools Minister said the case presented was strong, but that officials would need to review this further in the weeks ahead.
In the weeks that followed, I discussed our case on a number of further occasions with both the Secretary of State, and with the Schools Minister amongst others. Today it is clear they have listened and responded positively.The Schools Minister said yesterday that we had “made a compelling case”.
Instead of a total of ten areas, twelve have been announced, and the new funding of £60 million increased to £72 million to share between the twelve areas. Fenland and East Cambs has been confirmed as one of the 12.
So what does it mean? Firstly Fenland and East Cambs schools will now have access to around £6 million of new funding, separate to any other funding streams they have. This is to spend in the period between now and 2020.
Secondly, in addition to the £72 million, a further £3.5 million is being allocated between the 12 areas for each one to have their own Research School, to help lead the development and sharing of best practice in schools.
Thirdly, each opportunity area will have priority access to other Department of Education funding. This will cover other areas, like mentoring and career advice.
Quite simply put, this is the best day of my six years in Parliament. If Brookes Weston had not flagged this, if we had not worked collaboratively locally to pull a case together, and if we had not made the pitch effectively, Fenland and East Cambs would no doubt have missed out.
We have great talent and potential amongst the students in our schools which I see on a regular basis. This money will mean Fenland and East Cambs are now at the heart of the Department for Education’s flagship programme, and will have priority when bidding for other schemes in the future.