New leader for West Somerset Opportunity Area as flagship mobility programme enters fourth year

West Somerset Opportunity Area has appointed a new leader to take the Government’s flagship social mobility programme into its fourth year, levelling up outcomes for young people and ‘twinning’ with other places hit hardest by the pandemic.

 Professor Colin Diamond CBE takes over as chair of the West Somerset Opportunity Area’s independent Partnership Board from Dr Fiona McMillan who made a significant contribution to the programme’s successes over the first three years, including achieving its early years target so more children start school with the skills they need to learn.

Professor Diamond worked as a teacher before moving into senior educational leadership roles, including for Somerset County Council where he was a group manager and then assistant director from 1996 to 2000. He also worked in the South West Government Office, Department for Education and Birmingham Local Authority. He is currently Professor of Educational Leadership at Birmingham University and has lived in Somerset for over 20 years.

Professor Diamond’s appointment comes at a pivotal point in the Opportunity Area programme. In July, Minister Michelle Donelan announced funding allocations and more information about the £18 million year 4 extension – which will include work across government and £1 million for the 12 Opportunity Areas to ‘twin’ with another place to improve outcomes for thousands more.

 Professor Diamond said: “Education has the power to transform the lives of children by giving them the skills, experiences and opportunities to succeed, whatever their background.

 “The Opportunity Area is already having impact in levelling up outcomes and has hosted conferences to share some of the most successful projects for professionals in the wider region so even more children start school with the skills they need to learn and thrive. It’s also helped those hardest hit during the pandemic and will continue to support them as we chart our way to recovery.

“We can build on what’s worked to create lasting change for young people here in West Somerset and elsewhere by sharing our experience and knowledge with other places facing similar challenges.”

West Somerset Opportunity Area has already achieved its target of improving outcomes for five-year-olds so they have the skills they need to start school and learn. Following it’s focus on early years, the ‘Good Level of Development’ (GLD) – a key indicator in the  proportion of pupils reaching these early learning goals – has risen year on year from 57% in 2016 to 73% in 2019. Good results have also been achieved in phonics with average attainment also above national average in 2019. 

Early Years support has included extra training for professionals, as well as a new network for them to share ideas and support best practice, holiday activities for isolated families to support the home learning environment and help develop their child’s speech, language and communication skills, as well as projects to encourage healthy, active lifestyles and new ways of teaching maths. A new service ‘Skill Up’ has promoted apprenticeships and worked with employers.

If anyone would like to contact Professor Diamond please email:

WSOA Update June 2020

Dear Colleagues, friends and families,

Earlier this year we updated you that, due to the restrictions put in place as part of the Covid-19 response, most of the WSOA programme of work was being suspended until further notice. Due to the programme being postponed at that time there was a balance of funding which was not spent.  The Department of Education has now given the go ahead for Opportunity Areas to extend their original August 2020 completion deadline until March 2021 to enable them to use this underspent budget to support the area.

We are now in the position where lockdown rules are starting to be slowly lifted and schools are beginning to accept more students back into the classroom.  Therefore, we have taken time to review our work and projects and consider how the funding can be best used to support the community to get back to normal day to day life, as well as addressing some of the issues and impacts the Covid lockdown has caused to families living across West Somerset. 

Over the past few months we have been liaising and working closely with Schools, Early Years settings, Community groups and charitable organisations who have all been working hard in the communities during the lockdown period.  From the information and updates we have received a revised programme of work has been drafted setting out key areas of work which the WSOA will focus on over the coming months until March 2021.  This has been shared with the Partnership Board and been given approval.  The key areas are:

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 WSOA will continue to work closely with Partners over the coming weeks to develop a more detailed plan of projects/work and get these underway as soon as possible to support families and students across West Somerset.  Further details will be shared as projects are put in place.

As always if you have any questions or require additional information please email us at .  We will continue to keep you update via our twitter account, website and press releases as appropriate.

We hope you are all managing to stay safe and well during this difficult period and we look forward to being able to come out to visit West Somerset again soon.

With very best wishes

WSAO Progra

Moorland Federation of Schools produce a collage of rainbows to thank our NHS and Key workers

Oak National Academy

Oak National Academy, a new online classroom and resource hub, has launched to support teachers until schools re-open. The online classroom will provide free lessons and resources for pupils from reception through to year 10.

As part of a collective response to the crisis, 40 teachers will be producing over 180 free online lessons each week, which will cover a range of subjects from english and maths to arts and languages.

Teachers are doing all they can for pupils in these challenging times and have had to make significant changes to their practice very quickly. These resources are designed and developed by teachers to offer support during this period. Teachers are free to choose how to use it – follow the curriculum on offer, or signpost students to some of the resources and lessons available.

All resources, lessons and more information can be accessed here:

C-19 Update from WSOA Programme Team

Dear Colleagues, Families and Friends

We hope you and your extended families are all keeping safe and well during this unprecedented time dealing with the C-19 virus.

Those of us who are working on the WSOA programme will be following and implementing government recommendations as they are advised.  As part of this you may find some areas of work are suspended during the period of self-isolation and when there is an increased impact on schools and nurseries. This is to ensure that children and their families are protected as well as our own staff.

We will, of course, continue to keep you update via this website or our twitter account of any news, actions and support we can put in place to help and support children and their families during this period.

If you have any questions or concerns please contact us via our email account

With best wishes the West Somerset Opportunity Area Programme Team.

WATERY Lane Preschool in Minehead has been awarded an accreditation by the children’s communication charity I CAN.

The supportive level accreditation is in recognition of the preschool’s good practice in supporting all children’s speech, language and communication development.

Watery Lane is the first Early Years setting in West Somerset to be awarded the accreditation.

Watery Lane took part in the Early Talk programme which included training for all staff and a review of the setting based on good practice standards for supporting communication.

The setting was praised for its work with parents and the range of strategies used to support children’s language and independence skills.

Watery Lane Preschool is an Ofsted rated ‘outstanding’ nursery in Minehead that accepts children from the term after their second birthday up to when they start school.

Manager Liz Kane said: “The whole team work incredibly hard to support all children in their language and communication skills and are always seeking to develop their practice to ensure the highest level of teaching and support is provided in our play-based environment.

“We are extremely proud to be the first Early Years setting in West Somerset to be awarded the accreditation.”

Early Talk is funded by the Department for Education’s Opportunity Area (OA) programme to help children in West Somerset unleash their potential.

West Somerset is one of 12 OAs across England sharing a total of £90 million over four years, from 2017 to 2021, as part of the Government’s commitment to level up skills and opportunities across the country.

I CAN specialises in helping children develop the speech, language and communication skills they need to thrive in a 21st century world. Its mission is that no child should be left out or left behind because of a difficulty in speaking or understanding.

Petroc Community Grants Scheme

Aim: ‘Grants will support a range of activities aimed at moving individuals towards the labour market by improving their access to local employment and skills provision. They will provide support to underrepresented communities and individuals, especially those from deprived communities, to access employment, including self-employment, or further learning and training.’ 

Grants available: between £1k and £20k. The programme expects to reach 192 participants in Somerset.

Who can apply: Applications can be made by Third Sector and small organisations that already have links with the eligible participants and the identified priority groups.

Eligible Participants: 16+ unemployed and inactive people who have barriers to accessing mainstream provision.

Identified priority groups: 50+; female; are from ethnic minorities; have disabilities.

Activities and Costs: Examples of activities given are wellbeing workshops, community gardens and PDA as well as skills development and job clubs.

Eligible costs – staff costs, project admin and project running costs (not core costs), skills training and course costs, equipment under £1k such as a computer, printer and software, participant and staff expenses.

Ineligible costs – costs incurred before the start of the contract, organisation core costs, anything that the state is legally obliged to deliver, fundraising, bank and legal fees, and costs that cannot be evidenced as defrayed by the beneficiary organisation.

Timescales & Assessment: There are no application deadlines but there are Assessment Windows, currently advertised as 3rd June 2020 and 3rd September 2020. If an application is submitted by these dates a decision is expected within the month and a contract within two months.

All activity to be finished and reported by July 2021.

The scheme is a 2 stage process and training and guidance is offered by Petroc.

The Assessment Panel consists of Petroc staff, a LEP Member and a ‘nominated person’ from the local area.


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