DfE unveils 'opportunity area' plans

By Tristan Donovan

| 09 October 2017

Detailed blueprints for turning six "social mobility cold spots" into "opportunity areas" by enhancing support for disadvantaged children have been unveiled by the Department for Education.

Opportunity areas are set to make efforts to enhance early years provision to ensure children are school-ready. Picture: Lucy Carlier

The plans are part of a flagship initiative, first announced in October 2016, seeking to boost children and young people's life chances in 12 English districts that score poorly on social mobility.

The delivery plans for the first six opportunity areas - Blackpool, Derby, North Yorkshire, Norwich, Oldham and West Somerset - all emphasise the importance of enhancing early years support in combating social stagnation.

The need to raise achievement of children before they start school is identified as a priority in all the opportunity areas except Blackpool, which only excluded it so not to replicate the work of the town's existing early years improvement initiative Better Start.

Actions to enhance early years provision set out in the plans include more support to help disadvantaged families improve their children's home-learning environment and programmes designed to help develop pre-school children's literacy and maths.

All six delivery plans name raising attainment in school as a key priority and more support for school leavers has been made a priority in Blackpool, Norwich, Oldham and West Somerset.

Other actions set out in the delivery plans, which cover the period up to 2020, include:

  • Reviewing the approach to speech, language and communication in the early years in Derby, to identify and plug gaps in provision
  • Enhancing collaboration between early years professionals in West Somerset through the sharing of early childhood data
  • Testing the provision of school-based social care services in Blackpool to help reduce exclusions from school
  • Trialling of new approaches to help more young people in Norwich take part in the National Citizen Service
  • Offering all schools in Oldham mental health first-aid training to improve the support they offer pupils
  • Developing an improved continuing professional development offer for teachers working along the North Yorkshire coast

Delivery of the action plans for each opportunity area is being overseen by a local partnership board that brings together representatives from councils, schools, colleges and employers. The partnership boards will also work with the DfE and other national partners such as the National Citizen Service, the Careers & Enterprise Company and the Education Endowment Foundation.

"I want to level-up opportunity across this country so that all young people can go as far as their talents and drive will take them," said Education Secretary Justine Greening in her introduction to the Norwich delivery plan.

"Education is at the heart of that ambition, and is central to breaking down the barriers to social mobility that too many face in our country today."

Delivery plans for the remaining six opportunity areas - Bradford, Doncaster, Fenland and East Cambridgeshire, Hastings, Ipswich and Stoke-on-Trent - will be published at a later date.

The 12 localities named as opportunity areas were all identified as among the bottom fifth for social mobility in England by the Social Mobility Commission, a non-departmental public body created by the Child Poverty Act 2010 and chaired by former Labour health minister Alan Milburn.


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