Dan Jarvis celebrated his first anniversary as Sheffield City Region mayor earlier this month. Local political wranglings have left the mayoralty with fewer powers than his colleagues elsewhere in the country, which naturally has limited the impact he has had to date. But one interesting scheme he has used the powers he has to champion is the Sheffield Children’s University.
The scheme incentivises children to participate in extra-curricular activities outside of school hours by formally recognising children’s participation in activities such as playing board games, cooking, martial arts or dancing. Children are given credits for each hour of participation, and these credits are converted into awards for reaching milestones, like the Gold Award for 100 hours of participation.
The aim of the charity is to build children’s confidence and enthusiasm for learning through extra-curricular activities, resulting in higher educational attainment. It also focuses on providing experiences to children from deprived backgrounds who would otherwise not be able to take part in such initiatives.
Broad evidence supports this position – work by Centre for Cities last year highlighted the importance of extracurricular activities to help develop skills such as social perceptiveness, negotiation and critical thinking that are likely to become more important in tomorrow’s world of work.
This specific programme appears to be having a positive impact in Sheffield too. The organisation was brought to the city by Sheffield City Council. And evidence from its work in the city suggests that children enrolled at Children’s University get better GCSE results than those who aren’t enrolled, and they also score higher than the Sheffield local authority average. There is also a strong correlation between the number of hours spent doing university-accredited activities and high performance in reading, writing and Maths at KS2.
Because of the university’s success, Jarvis has pledged £95,000 of his Mayoral Capacity Funding to expand it into Barnsley and Rotherham, as well as to support the existing scheme in Doncaster, so that it has coverage across the Sheffield City Region. This example shows one of the benefits that a mayor can bring even with limited powers– the freedom to use direct money towards the policy areas that are seen as a priority for the area they cover.
One of the big challenges that Jarvis has faced is that the political fallout between the councils in the combined authority has meant that he does not have a devolution deal in place with the Government to give him powers over transport, housing and skills, as well as a rolling investment fund that other mayors have.
Recent developments mean that a deal is likely to be signed soon though. And this will increase the number of levers he can pull to support the city-region’s economy.
The powers of a mayor stretch beyond the formal policies that he or she has control over. So far Dan Jarvis has had to rely on these broader powers of influence. Giving him more formal powers will allow him to complement the work he has done with initiatives such as Sheffield Children’s University to increase the impact his office can have.