The West Somerset Opportunity Area Partnership Board convenes bi-monthly, to gain an overview of what is an ambitious programme to improve social mobility and the educational outcomes for young people in West Somerset. At the first meeting since the start of the new academic year, there was a sense that much had been achieved, that progress was ongoing, but that the programme was entering a defined transition phase. Whilst funding continues to be awarded and initiatives still actioned, it was felt we now need to address how to make the programme sustainable going forward. More on this later.
The meeting was held on the 30th of September 2020. First, our partners met our new chair, Professor Colin Diamond. Colin has decades of experience both as teacher and advisor and is the current Professor of Educational Leadership at Birmingham University. He outlined plans to get out and visit individual schools over the rest of the term.
The Board was informed of the continued impact of the Covid pandemic on educational professionals and our business partners within West Somerset. However, there was much to be optimistic about and our schools have adapted well.
West Somerset Academy Trust advised that attendance rates were 5% lower than normal and that two classes had been sent home in Minehead following positive Covid testing. Children in Yrs 3-8 will be assessed before tailored catch up plans are put in place, these plans will be focused on individual requirements, to assist best with their educational recovery. Remote learning has also been strengthened: All West Somerset college students now have WSOA supplied laptops, whilst Yrs 5 and 6 have Chrome books in other schools. In addition, 65 families have been issued with dongles, including unlimited data for a year.
We were informed that businesses in coastal and rural areas across the UK were apparently hit hardest by Covid restrictions, but money has been secured by Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership to undertake Covid recovery projects. There are a number of businesses within our OA which they are monitoring and supporting. The Onion Collective announced that the Mushroom Factory is up and running at the former Watchet paper mill and expects to generate two paid positions. Further news from Watchet came from Contains Art, where students are designing their new educational space within the building. Plus, Minehead EYE was once again operational, with all staff back and off furlough and it is once again supporting community initiatives. It will shortly be home to a new youth employment hub funded by Somerset West and Taunton Deane Council.
Somerset Education Business Partnership are still working hard building relationships between employers and schools, and that continues digitally, despite Covid-19. The board was also excited to hear about the forthcoming digital careers fair funded by the OA. Overall it should be noted that no funding decisions were taken at this meeting.
Other business included:
- Discussion of a national tutoring advice and academic mentoring offering from the DfE
- Discussion of support and subsidies for childcare and early years places from SW&T
- Ideas around developing more apprentices for education and childcare workforce
- Indications that all West Somerset schools are now engaged in a national tutoring programme
Which brings me on to the subject of legacy. It is clear that our stakeholders value the advancements that have been made through the WSOA and that there has been a significant progress on numerous fronts.
In our Priority 1 and Priority 2 categories, not only have we seen improved attainment of GLD, good learning development, in the early years foundation stage, this is now above national average. We have made clear progress in phonics attainment and a systematic approach is helping those schools with the weakest results. In addition, we have a common attendance policy and Mental Health and Well-being are now prioritised.
Outcomes for older children and young adults have also improved. Better careers advice has led to wider choices at University and other destinations and the education environment has been enriched. Pupils and staff at West Somerset College have benefitted from specialist support and the sixth form is now growing. Moreover, the employer network has grown substantially since the start of the OA. In short, momentum has continued despite Covid interruptions and new practices are now embedded and normalised.
As we begin to formalise how these links and practices can continue, it is apparent that collaboration is key. There is a recognition that we have a clear direction of travel and as we enter into the final year of the programme, the message from our stakeholders is clear; the West Somerset Community itself, its educational professionals, businesses, charities and volunteer networks should play a lead role in shaping this sustainable vision. The WSOA looks forward to working with them on this transition and once again putting young people at the heart of the solution.
By Jan Downie, Department for Education