We cannot let any children be cut off from the chances this country can offer them
I am living proof of the power of opportunity. It is now my turn to ensure all children, no matter their background or what obstacles are in the way, are presented with the chance to succeed in life, writes Nadhim Zahawi
Every MP has their own story. A story about where they came from, how they got here, the opportunities they had and the people that helped them along the way. This great country has provided them with opportunities that put them on the path to being a member of the greatest Parliament in the world.
When I arrived in the UK from Iraq as a child, I would never have imagined that I would be where I am today. At school, I used to hide at the back of the classroom, desperately hoping the teacher would not ask me a question, through fear my English wouldn’t be good enough to answer it.
I am living proof of the power of opportunity; proof that with the right support at an early age, any life can be transformed. I moved forward and started my own business, using the support network behind me to make a success of it.
As the Minister for Children and Families it is now my turn to ensure all families, all children, no matter their background or what obstacles are in the way, are presented with the opportunity to succeed in life.
Education begins at home, long before children arrive in the classroom, which is why we have recently announced projects to help families introduce a creative environment at home that supports their young child’s early speaking and reading.
These projects will provide practical tools for families, with activities like playing with letters, learning songs and nursery rhymes or drawing and painting. For parents who might lack confidence, whether reading aloud or knowing how to support their child’s development, this advice can give them a helpful starting point. We have also announced a new £8.5m programme to encourage councils to work closer together, share ideas and programmes to improve disadvantaged children’s language and literacy.
These new measures are just one part of our ambitious Social Mobility Action Plan – a £800m investment from the government to close the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers.
We cannot let any of these children continue to be cut off from the chances this country can offer them and addressing this gap in the early years will have a huge impact on a child’s education in the longer term. Research from Save the Children shows that five-year-olds who struggle with language are six times less likely to reach the expected standard in English at age 11, and 11 times less likely to achieve the expected level in maths.
Getting the best start in life also means having access to a high-quality early years education, which is why this government has done more than any other to extend access to childcare. Over 163,000 two-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are benefitting from the government’s 15 hours free childcare and 95% of all the 3- and 4-year olds are accessing some sort of government-backed early years education.
I am privileged in my role to have the opportunity to travel around the country and see the innovative approaches being used to give children from disadvantaged backgrounds the same opportunities others might take for granted.
This includes initiatives such as the Norfolk Boarding Schools Partnership which helps children in and on the edge of care, to turn their lives around after a turbulent start.
The partnership provided places at local boarding schools for 52 of these vulnerable young people, and research found almost two-thirds of children were taken off the local authority risk register after spending at least three years in boarding school. It is schemes like this, with the right combination of accommodation and support, can help break the cycle of risk for vulnerable young people.
This government, the Education Secretary and myself won’t stop working until every child has a chance to reach their full potential. In a country that works for everyone, we must make sure no child is left behind.
Nadhim Zahawi is Conservative MP for Stratford-on-Avon and Minister for Children and Families