By Anna Whittaker, Local Democracy Reporter
Families in one of the most deprived areas of Nottinghamshire are being helped to get children ‘school ready’ so they don’t fall behind in their education.
Nottingham Trent University (NTU) is working on the project with parents and organisations on the Oak Tree Lane Estate in Mansfield.
The area is in the top one per cent of most deprived areas in the UK, according to figures from the Consumer Data Research Centre, an academic group which collects economic and social statistics.
The new project was discussed at Nottinghamshire County Council’s health scrutiny committee on November 14.
Kimberley Simms, Head of Widening Access and Community Engagement at NTU, said nationally and locally, some children are “coming to school not ready to learn”.
She said this can include, in some areas, children coming to school while still wearing nappies and not being able to communicate effectively.
But she added that in the Oak Tree Lane project there is “significant energy in the community to lead the change”.
She said: “In 2020, 24 children began the foundation year in Oak Tree Primary School.
“An assessment of their levels of readiness was conducted in the first few weeks of term.
“Of the 24 children, 22 were so far behind the expectations required that they were unable to complete the assessment. That speaks to a huge problem.
“The community feel judged and a level of stigmatisation.
“They are tired of projects with the aim of saving them from themselves.”
She said so far there has been a “huge increase” in parental engagement with a new ‘parent calendar’ of events created and a ‘warm welcome group’.
The scheme also involves coffee morning for families, access to education and health experts, and stay and play sessions.
During the meeting, one councillor criticised Conservative MP and County Council leader Ben Bradley, who mentioned the Oak Tree Lane Estate in a Tweet in 2020.
He wrote: “At one school in Mansfield 75 per cent of kids have a social worker, 25 per cent of parents are illiterate. Their estate is the centre of the area’s crime.
“One kid lives in a crack den, another in a brothel. These are the kids that most need our help, extending Free School Meals doesn’t reach these kids.”
Cllr Anne Callaghan (Lab), said she had worked with the school for over 30 years.
She said: “Our leader and MP [Ben Bradley] didn’t do himself any justice when he talked about crack dens and free school meals.
“That has stigmatised and disincentiveised parents to work with agencies.
“Oak Tree is probably one of the only schools in the country with a social worker and we have quite a few illiterate parents. How has anybody tried to work with those parents?”
Cllr Sam Smith (Con) added: “I visit schools and what I am seeing is a huge focus on speech and language, training infants to use the toilet properly.
“Being able to dress themselves and writing their name is something primary schools are having to focus on.”