Frank Field MP addressed Wirral Council’s Cabinet asking for all-party support for his proposal. He wanted to set up a free school in Birkenhead, providing a service from the twelfth week of pregnancy. Frank Field hoped that the free school proposal would also attract extra money from other sources.
Mr. Field talked about his visits to schools and that how everyone wanted to be good parents, yet they were witnessing a breakdown in good parenting. He said [in reference to the Children and Young People's Director] that he wouldn’t want his job “for all the tea in China”. Frank Field continued by saying that a child’s life chances were determined in the first days after birth. They had received their first grant for school readiness and were also looking at the business of how to impart the knowledge to young people about how to be good parents. St. Anselm’s College and Prenton High were part of an initial pilot in trying to incorporate parenting skills into the curriculum. He hoped the political parties would be a part of it. Frank Field said that as no one else had yet done this that they couldn’t give a hundred pages of what other people had done, however he believed people should be behind it and see it through.
Cllr Green said he was “really excited by the idea”. He said that certain families had no way to break out of the cycle [of poverty] and that this wouldn’t end poverty but would make a start and was an opportunity for Wirral to be at the forefront. Would they know the results in 18-20 years time? He asked Frank Field what indicators they were looking for?
Frank Field said that he wanted to see success before then, but there was a longer term aim to break the intergenerational nature of poverty. He continued by pointing out that recently they had found that inequality took shape early on and that schools could raise ability but not change class differences. Frank Field wanted to make increasing numbers of children school ready, he criticised the labelling of some families as “hard to reach” by professionals and said that “producing fine citizens is one of the key things we want”.
Cllr Clarke thanked Frank Field said that the Child and Family Poverty Working Group had worked hard but there was no magic bullet.
Frank Field said the work couldn’t be done by budgets and it would not work unless there was a Herculean effort including the voluntary sector. In his view statutory services were not the best way to reach the families dubbed “hard to reach”, but organisations like Home Start could.
Cllr Harney thanked Frank Field and declared an interest as Chair of the Governors of Observatory School, he went on to raise the issue of low expectations and self-confidence.
Frank Field said that social skills and soft skills were crucial in getting a job.
Cllr Green expressed the view that the voluntary, community and faith sector organisations could have a key role.
Cllr Rennie referred to a previous career in dealing with difficult families and that the same family names were coming up in contact with Social Services. These were the children of the families she’d dealt with years ago.
She also referred to the work of the Mersey Maritime Board and how some couldn’t look their interviewer in the eye at a job interview. Cllr Rennie also referred to a Fire Service project focussed on teaching young people skills. She asked how the outcomes would be measured?
Frank Field said it would be outcome focussed.
Cllr Dave Mitchell said that he had mentioned funding for the first two years, but how would it continue after that?
Frank Field replied that they wanted to apply for free school status so the money would come direct from central government, but they didn’t want to apply until they could show the government it was working.
Cllr Green thanked Frank Field for his “fantastic proposal” and moved a resolution thanking the Child Poverty Working Group. His resolution also recommended to the Working Group that £300,000 would be put towards the establishment outlined in Frank Field’s proposal.
You can read Liam Murphy’s article on the same issue in the Wirral News by following this link.