Education Secretary Justine Greening is to announce a £23m fund to support bright children from poorer backgrounds in England whose talent might otherwise be “wasted”.
The aim is to reverse a trend in which bright poor pupils are overtaken in school by less able wealthier children.
It will be part of a relaunched social mobility strategy.
Labour’s Angela Rayner said the plans were “rhetoric” against a background of funding cuts and lower real-terms pay.
The Future Talent Fund, drawn from existing Department for Education budgets, will test new ways of supporting the most able youngsters from deprived areas.
There will be a tendering process for ideas to tackle the problem of poorer youngsters who show great ability when they begin school but who do not fulfil their potential.
This could be about finding ways to engage parents or schemes for mentoring, extra activities or how lessons are delivered.
The education secretary will highlight the importance of a good start in children’s early years, with £50m reallocated to support the opening of nurseries in areas without enough childcare provision.
Ms Greening says that education has to be “at the heart of social mobility”, but the government’s strategy has come under fire.
Earlier this month, the board of the Social Mobility Commission resigned in protest at the lack of progress.
And yesterday, the Office for National Statistics published figures showing wage stagnation, with average wage increases continuing to fall behind inflation.
But Ms Greening will restate that social mobility remains a priority and that the “overarching ambition is to leave no community behind”, in a strategy called Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential.
“The reality is that in modern Britain, where you start too often decides where you finish,” she will say at a social mobility conference in London.
“This is a defining challenge for us as a nation. We have talent spread evenly across this great country – the problem is that opportunity is not.”
Head teachers’ leader Paul Whiteman says equality remains “out of reach for too many young people”.
But the NAHT leader backed the plans for a more “joined-up” approach, with schools’ efforts to “narrow the gap” being linked to businesses, employers and local community initiatives.
“The issues that underpin inequality reach far beyond the school gates and exist throughout the communities that schools serve,” said Mr Whiteman.
Prof Les Ebdon, director of Fair Access to Higher Education, also backed the plans.
“Talent is found across the country – from council estate to country estate – and ensuring that your postcode doesn’t act as a barrier to your potential must remain a top priority,” he said.
But Labour’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, rejected the government’s promises of social mobility, saying that they were contradicted by their decisions on funding.
“Ministers have slashed funding for Sure Start, cut school budgets by £2.7bn, imposed real-terms cuts on teachers’ pay and abolished the education maintenance allowance which has made it harder for those from disadvantaged backgrounds to stay in education,” she said.
Greening pledges £23m to help poor pupils with talent
Source: Education & Family