Following the Department for Education announcement yesterday the West Somerset Opportunity Area is delighted to say that funding has been extended into a fifth year to help maximize potential for children and young people in West Somerset. The Opportunity Area programme has yielded positive results over three years in the run up to the pandemic and has continued to support teachers and pupils, families and nursery settings during lockdown. It will now focus on maximizing the gains made in attainment in the classroom and will continue to work closely with its partners in the community to offer school leavers further employability skills. In addition, the OA is expanding the reach of successful initiatives in early years education via twinning projects that have already begun in the Mendips and which will now take place in other neighbouring areas such as Weymouth and Portland and Wiveliscombe. The budget for these twinning projects is £147,700 and is included in the total budget for Year 5 for West Somerset which is £869,700.
West Somerset Opportunity Area is one of twelve national Opportunity Areas set up to address the findings of the 2016 Social Mobility Index. In the first four years, the programme has benefitted from £90million of central government funding across England, this will now be extended by a further £18million. At the time the index was published, West Somerset was the least likely area in the country for children from a disadvantaged background to do well at school and get a good job, coming 324th out of 324 areas. In the intervening years the OA has worked closely with schools, charities and community organizations to narrow the gap, so that all children can achieve their potential.
Over the first three years of the programme, year on year gains saw children in West Somerset surpass the national average for good learning development. Phonics attainment has risen steadily and all nursery settings across West Somerset have staff trained in offering support with language development and vocabulary. Despite the setback of Coronavirus, which has impacted learning and mental health in young people across the country, the adoption of new mental health training, support and standards has been timely and warmly received in schools across the area. An extensive professional development programme for teachers and teaching assistants has also been supported. Career mentoring and employability training for young people who lack a clear direction on leaving school has continued online throughout lockdown and has succeeded in linking young people with employers across Somerset. Pupil participation in the sixth form at West Somerset College has also increased.
Professor Colin Diamond, Chair of the Opportunity Area Partnership Board says: “Social mobility is a complex issue that can be tackled from many angles. Where we have done well here in West Somerset is to listen to educational professionals, existing charities and community groups and to offer specific, targeted support. Some initiatives have been small whilst others have been a large investment, however they have all been equally important. By acting in this joined-up way we have made great strides and it is now a question of making sure that those improvements can be sustained. Our final year of the programme will be all about legacy and helping other colleagues learn about what has worked well.”