WSOA Programme Board Response to Covid-19 May 2020

West Somerset Opportunity Area

Partnership Board Update and Blog

The work of the West Somerset Opportunity Area was interrupted by the national lockdown and other effects of Covid-19.  A scheduled meeting in March was cancelled whilst DfE and local stakeholders considered the most relevant response to circumstances. Subsequently, Board meetings were held in May, June and July. The following is a synopsis of business at each of these meetings.

19th May 2020

Conflicts of interest recorded for Peter Elliot, Paul Rushforth and Naomi Griffiths

The main focus of the meeting was use of the OA funds held by Somerset County Council which could not be used in the original way planned, due to national restrictions.  Some activities were paused, delayed, or cancelled resulting in an underspend.  The programme team consulted with local stakeholders, including education leaders, about the best way to manage remaining funding, following DfE agreement that OA funds can be spent up to 31st March 2021. The feedback from the consultation informed four priorities for use of the underspend:

  • Curriculum and transitions: Reduce the impact of the educational hiatus on disadvantaged/pupil premium children (all ages)
  • Community partnership: Emotional wellbeing /SEND: Improve resilience
  • CEIAG, post-16 and skills:  Reduce NEET
  • Digital Connectivity enabling benefits to be realised

The most pressing priority was identified as digital connectivity for children and young people who lacked resources at home.  The board agreed in principle that funding should be used for the recommended purpose and a proposal developed.

As second proposal was to support family engagement in the community as a need had been identified by stakeholders.  A proposal for funding from another source had been made by a community partnership in West Somerset and it was agreed that any further funding decisions would depend on the outcome of that bid.

The programme team agreed to do more work on a comprehensive plan to utilise the underspend.

Jeff Brown (consultant) joined the meeting to provide an update on the Young People’s participation research funded by the OA and undertaken by the Youth Sport Trust

18th June 2020

At the June Partnership Board, the main item of discussion was a fully scoped plan for use of the underspend presented for approval by members.

The plan set, out in detail, the project that will be funded within the priorities agreed at the May meeting. Partnership Board members endorsed the plan, which will be delivered by the local programme team.

OA support for purchase of IT equipment and relevant support, to support on-line learning by children and young people, had been agreed at the previous partnership board meeting and Julia Ridge, OA Programme Manager, provided an update on progress.

The Partnership Board were also asked to review the proposed delivery plan for a fourth year of the OA programme. The plan reflects a prioritisation exercise conducted by the Board in January.

No conflicts of interest were recorded.

18th July 2020

Conflict of interest registered by Tom Thayer of EDF.

Professor Colin Diamond CBE has been confirmed as the new Chair of the Partnership Board. Professor Diamond works in the Department of Education at Birmingham University, specialising in educational management. He lives in Somerset.

The main agenda item at the meeting in July was the approval of the Year 4 OA delivery plan, which had been approved by Minister Donelan since the meeting in June as well as confirmation of a funding allocation of £980,000. An overview of the plan can be found here.

Tom Thayer presented a proposal requesting funding for a skills development initiative that will enable participants to benefit from a Hinkley Point C programme of support that will prepare them for future employment opportunities within the sector. The Partnership Board endorsed the proposal but requested that some match funding be found from other organisations.

Opportunity Area Year 4 Announcement


West Somerset was the lowest ranking district in the Social Mobility Index in January 2016, a measure that compares the chances that a child from a disadvantaged background will do well at school and get a good job. Not enough children were achieving the same level of attainment at school as in Somerset or nationally.

In 2016, West Somerset, along with 11 other areas across England, was selected to become an Opportunity Area. This resulted in a planned programme of education interventions, implemented from 2017. These interventions have to date yielded success, but there is still more to achieve. The fourth year of the programme, which starts in September 2020, will further ensure that improvements are built on and embedded, preparing more young people in West Somerset to take advantage of current and future opportunities.

The Year 4 Plan

Four educational priorities will be implemented in the 2020 to 2021 academic year.  We will also aim to share learning, developed within the Opportunity Area, with other parts of Somerset and the south-west.

  1. Continued development of sustainable, high quality teaching and learning in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) A targeted programme of activity to further strengthen Early Years provision in West Somerset will build on professional development of the workforce and will focus on speech and language, maths, physical activity and inclusive practice.  Successful initiatives that have engaged families in the development of young children in the home learning environment will be extended. Best practice will be embedded in settings and will support sustainable, long-term good quality provision led by the West Somerset Early Years Community, which is a specific self-directing professional group established in 2019 to drive improvement in West Somerset. Ensuring sufficiency of childcare in West Somerset will also be a priority.
  2. Delivery of evidence based: literacy strategies, maths mastery and SEND practice in West Somerset schools. Investment will help schools strengthen teaching and learning of core curriculum subjects and ensure education is inclusive.  Special attention will be given to those students who are at most educational disadvantage, particularly during the period of Covid-19 education recovery. Strong transition and curriculum coherence throughout all key stages will deliver a school system that helps more children and young people attain at and above national benchmarks
  3. Deliver, with schools and early years settings, a focused Children’s workforce recruitment campaign that promotes education in West Somerset. The need to boost recruitment of teachers and other education professionals in West Somerset is one that is regarded as important by early years’ settings and schools. This intervention will help to ensure a strong workforce base will be sustained by the local school system in West Somerset.
  4. Support schools to meet requirements of the national careers strategy and engage young people in the world of work. Working with partners to ensure a programme of activity designed to broaden horizons and develop aspirations will be delivered across West Somerset.  Employers will be engaged to support this process and encouraged to develop their own work-based training through the apprenticeship route.  

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