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

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

We have created this website to help you find out more about the wide range of Degrees, Foundation Degrees, Degree Apprenticeships, Higher Education, Professional Qualifications and courses on offer in Somerset and how to access them.

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.

Borrow an iPad for business

Why not add a bit of digital to your business! People can now loan a brand-new iPad from Minehead Library, in the same way they might loan a book! Funded by Somerset West and Taunton, this service is specifically aimed at businesses or potential new businesses.

Five tablets have been pre-loaded with a range of toolkits, apps and links to help you get started in developing your digital strategy and exploring opportunities such as website design, on-line finance and social media.

The iPads can be loaned free of charge for one month – all you need is a Somerset Libraries Card (and if you don’t have one, just come inside with ID such as a driving licence and the staff will be happy to help) We also have an excellent ‘Books for Business’ collection – including advice for creating the best CV, marketing and finance and making the most of social media

Email –

Twitter – @SomersetLib