Transition Phase for WSOA

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

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.

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.  

The Healthy Mover in me

Kate Chaplin – Youth Sports Trust Tutor  and Development Coach, has written a blog in the eyes of one of the children at a nursery/pre school. 

Chapter One

In the Autumn of 2018, my Early Years teacher went to Minehead to “Teacher School,” for the day.

They learnt lots of games and activities that would help me to learn, be active and play with my friends and family.

Chapter Two

During Autumn, the leaves changed colour on the trees and some of them fell onto the ground when the wind blew. We started to play the games that my teacher had learnt.

Sometimes we were like the Birds in the Trees who were balancing on the branches when the Autumn winds blew

Look at Me!

I can balance on both my feet close together On one foot On the other foot How many seconds can I balance for on each foot?

Chapter Three

Soon, our parents and carers came and joined us. We would all listen to a story and then play together.

My favourite activity with my parent or carer has been……

I can dance with a scarf and draw shapes in the air. This is helping me to learn to hold a paintbrush, pencil and one day to read and write.

Chapter Four

In the spring term, we were given a rucksack.

In my rucksack I have……?

My favourite thing in my rucksack is my……?

Chapter Five

At home, I have played with the toys and cards in my rusk sack with my parents and we all had lots of fun.

Chapter Six

At Easter, we had an egg hunt and played Healthy Mover games! We had a picnic with our friends from other nurseries.

I made some great new friends and learnt not to be scared of going to a new place and trying different games and activities.

Skill Up West Somerset

Skill up is a complimentary service to support the businesses and people of West Somerset with their Apprenticeship and Skills journey, offering impartial advice and guidance. Marie Howard, is the Skill Up Apprenticeships and Skills Adviser, providing information and support for your business to help you understand the Apprenticeship and skills landscape, and introduce you to local training provision.

If you would like to learn more about the government funding available for Apprentices or have other skills requirements please contact Marie for free, impartial, advice and guidance. Email: Telephone: 07395796297

Jane Parker, is the Skill Up Information Adviser and Employment Coach, providing information and support to any individual in the community and will be regularly available across West Somerset’s Employment Hubs. Email: Telephone: 07734494755  


Study Up

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Providers of Higher Education (HE) across Somerset have worked together to provide the latest information on courses, campuses, study options, funding and FAQs, We hope that this will help you understand the great opportunities for studying and living in Somerset.