A Year to Look Forward To

The WSOA Partnership Board highlights inspirational Trauma Informed Schools training and discusses how, in its fifth and final year, the OA will share the learning that is delivering so well for West Somerset. 

The beginning of June saw the last WSOA Partnership Board meeting for Year 4 of the Opportunity Area programme. Following the announcement that the 12 national Opportunity Areas would be given a funding extension into a fifth year, the focus was on what had already had greatest impact for children and young people in West Somerset, and how lessons learned could also maximize success at county level and beyond. It was commented on by our Chair, Professor Colin Diamond, that the Opportunity Area is a pioneer within the region and that the valuable experience should not be lost going forward.

Year 4 finishes at the end of August 2021. After a Summer programme of holiday activities with food, which will be enhanced by the OA, the final leg of the programme will begin at the start of the new academic year in September, with the aim of building on achievements to date. The ambition is to leave West Somerset with a sustainable legacy of improvements in learning and classroom excellence, greater access to career enhancing relationships and training, plus a sustainable network of partnerships to help every young person fulfil their potential.  With that at the forefront of the agenda, it was announced that a conference will be convened in the Autumn of 2021, with the sole purpose of fleshing out a viable, lasting structure that will deliver a legacy for this work.  

One partner commented that attainment and progress with regard to young people, and the teams around them, cannot take place without the solid foundation of good mental health and the board were given a presentation on the Trauma Informed Schools training that has been rolled out across West Somerset schools this academic year.  

The aim of Trauma Informed Schools training is to provide appropriate training for school communities so that they become mentally healthy places for all. The idea is to help children and teenagers before they develop mental health issues – to “catch them as they are falling not after they have fallen”.

It was stressed that the value of wellbeing is high on the agenda of the educational recovery package and the board learned that the West Somerset area wide model encompasses training for senior leaders and practitioners, both in schools and in wider outreach/community settings.

At the start of the Trauma Informed Schools project, eight schools took part in a one-day whole school training session and this was followed by twenty-four senior leaders from schools and area services taking part in a two-day Senior Leadership programme.  In addition to this, twenty-eight colleagues from schools and outreach services are about to complete the final phase of the ten-day long Practitioner Diploma.

In terms of impact, the board were delighted to hear that the TIS training has been called the “most empowering learning some individuals had ever undertaken” and it is already informing discussions around updating behaviour and relationship policies in some schools.  With its emphasis on cognitive development and neuroscience, participants felt it helped them understand the reasons behind certain behaviours and not just the behaviour itself. West Somerset now has a body of educationalists who can support each other in taking the programme forward, for the benefit of every school community.

Going forward with a budget of £869,700, Year 5 of the West Somerset Opportunity Area will continue to work across all areas relating to improved focus upon improvements in Early Years attainment and Schools Standards. There will be continued support for professional development within schools and it will also continue to engage beyond the school gates. This will include a parenting programme for parents of 0-18 and 0-25 SEND, as well continued embedding of ‘Team Around the School’. The aim is that not only are parents confident accessing learning, but they are also fully engaged in raising their children and are aware of all steps to take at each stage of the child’s development.

The Opportunity Area will continue to explore how parents can have the opportunity to work with access to affordable childcare.  Additional work will take place in Year5 to examine opportunities for high quality, effective wraparound childcare including support for growing the availability of OFSTED registered provision.

Other highlights of the meeting include the continued efforts to generate employment post-16 and further skill-up training. It was very clear to all colleagues that school leavers had faced an incredibly tough transition during Covid-19 and that they must continue to receive extra support to help them enter the workplace. Ongoing provision of training opportunities and relationships with local business will continue to be funded.

Further twinning projects are planned for Year5 to extend the reach of progress to date and to enable other authorities to benefit from lessons the Opportunity Area has learned. It was stressed that a key focus within the final year of the programme will be to ensure that all of the outstanding work across each priority area is embedded in a sustainable way, to empower the children, young people and families of West Somerset to have the very best opportunities to succeed.

Another Year to improve Social Mobility in West Somerset

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.”

Fifth year of Opportunity Area programme to benefit thousands more young people

  • £18 million to build back better for children and young people in some of England’s most disadvantaged regions
  • Opportunity Areas have delivered proven results in early years for disadvantaged children, in phonics results and at Key Stage 2
  • Investment will help level up outcomes in education and support recovery from the pandemic

Thousands more young people in some of the most disadvantaged regions of England will benefit from a fifth year of investment in the flagship Opportunity Areas programme as part of the government’s commitment to levelling up.

Since 2016, the programme has invested £90 million on improving school standards, attendance, teaching quality and recruitment, careers training and advice, literacy and maths skills, alongside tackling barriers to learning that exist beyond the school gates.

An additional £18 million will now be invested in 12 Opportunity Areas across the country, which include Blackpool, Derby and Oldham. Each area will be ‘twinned’ with previous areas who have faced similar challenges so they can benefit from their expertise and collaborate more closely on the issues facing children and young people.  

The programme aims to help children and young people improve in key subjects such as maths and English, support pupils who are at risk of falling out of education or give older students the confidence and skills to make the leap from school into work.

Ensuring every child has access to the high-quality education and support they deserve is a key part of the government’s levelling up agenda. The Prime Minister has today set out his renewed commitment to ensuring opportunity is spread equally throughout the country and has endorsed the Opportunity Areas programme as a key part of this.

Opportunity Areas Minister Michelle Donelan said:

“Opportunity Areas have been making a real difference in levelling up the outcomes for children and young people in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country, from early years into employment. We have seen this difference in the rising standards in key subjects like maths and phonics, in how the targeted support available is boosting young people’s confidence to succeed and in how each area was able to adapt to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I have seen first-hand how the dedication and commitment of people on the ground in these areas is driving school improvement and removing the barriers to success.  This funding will enable them to continue this important work, help sustain long-term improvements and outcomes, support even more children and young people, and level up standards across England.”

The additional funding will help more children and young people across the country benefit from the expertise nurtured in the Opportunity Areas.  Examples include the Sheffield City Region adopting a high-quality skills and careers strategy to create more opportunities for young people, following a successful roll out by the Doncaster Opportunity Area. 

Hasting Opportunity Area’s work supporting literacy inclusion and covid recovery will be shared to help children and in Portsmouth and East Sussex, and Stoke-on-Trent’s twinning activities in Rotherham and Lincoln will provide mentoring for vulnerable and disadvantaged young people through community work at their local football clubs. 

These activities will build on the existing successes of the Opportunity Area programme which include phonics results in Derby improving significantly in recent years, with the percentage of year one pupils achieving the phonics standard increasing to 83% in 2019, surpassing the national average. Improvements in Derby saw a 5-percentage point increase since 2016 (78%), against a national increase of 1 percentage point (81% in 2016 and 82% in 2019).

An innovative recruitment campaign across the North Yorkshire Coast has filled 225 teacher and support role vacancies in 45 schools, 40 coming from outside the area as did 13 new Teach First trainees, reducing spending and reliance on supply staff.

The proportion of children in West Somerset achieving the expected levels in the early learning goals has also increased year-on-year since 2016, from 57% in 2016 to 73% in 2019, which was above the national average of 72%.

Other successes across the wider programme include early years outcomes for disadvantaged children improving in nine of the 12 Opportunity Areas, phonics results for all pupils improving in 10 of the 12 areas, and Key Stage 2 performance improving by more than the national rate in 10 of the 12. 

Over the past four years, the Opportunity Areas have been led by local people delivering tailored solutions to tackle entrenched problems in places for too long left behind, using local knowledge to address social mobility challenges, and levelling up the opportunities for thousands of young people to reach their potential. 

As well as playing an important role in helping areas recover from the coronavirus pandemic, a key priority for year five of the Opportunity Areas will be ensuring the changes that have been put in place are sustainable, with a continued focus on the most impactful elements of the programme.

This announcement takes the total investment in the OAs to £108 million, continuing its work to improve early years and school standards and addressing barriers to learning that exist beyond the school gates.  The Department for Education is now working directly with the Opportunity Areas to identify priorities for the fifth year of the programme.

Work underway to prepare College Farm

Workers from Exmoor National Park help prepare the site for Easter Activities

Exmoor National Park have recently volunteered staff to help prepare the college farm asset at Minehead in readiness for government funded holiday activities. The West Somerset College Farm, an agriculture and horticultural educational facility on the outskirts of the town, comprises animal grazing, barns, industrial greenhouses and a large classroom which have lain dormant for the past two years. The site is being brought back into use with the help of the West Somerset Opportunity Area, which plans to run holiday activities with food there, to support families and children in the community.

Julia Ridge of Somerset County Council says: “The West Somerset Opportunity Area recognises the value of the farm unit to the people of West Somerset. Not only is it a great resource to help young people train for a rewarding career, there is also a lot of potential to host other different community projects here too.”

“Children have missed out on so much interaction since the beginning of the lockdown restrictions, so we are really pleased to be able to recondition the unit.  It is a great place for young people to be with their friends, have fun, develop their knowledge of food production and farming and enjoy nourishing food at the same time.”

Tony Mann foreman from Exmoor National Park has worked with staff who trained at the unit, he adds: “This is exactly the kind of project we love to do and really what our work is about, helping the public make the most of our outdoor spaces. It is a pleasure being part of the effort to bring this place back to life.”

Peter Elliot, leader of Bridgwater and Taunton College Trust said: “We are incredibly grateful to the Exmoor National Park and their colleagues for their generous support to prepare the farm facilities for future use.  We are excited that the facility will be available for the community to use for various projects across the coming months.”

The West Somerset Opportunity Area will be involved with the site until September this year. It will be running holiday activities with support from local charities and the government’s Holiday Activities and Food Programme, part of a Covid-19 response package which has been extended into 2021. Activities are scheduled to begin at Easter.