Opportunity Areas inquiry chair flags concerns in letter to Hinds

By Joanne Parkes

| 19 July 2019

The chair of the parliamentary Opportunity Areas inquiry remains "unconvinced" about the effectiveness of the £72m programme, he states in a letter to Education Secretary Damian Hinds.

Robert Halfon MP is not convinced that the programme is the most effective way to support disadvantaged communities. Image: Crown Estate

Conservative MP Robert Halfon raises concerns over the value for money of the Department for Education's flagship social mobility initiative, which targets 12 "social mobility coldspots".

The politician also flags his doubts over the scheme's independence from government, a lack of joined up working across departments, and how its performance is measured.

Each of the areas is receiving £6m by 2020 to boost learning and training opportunities and the inquiry looked at how the scheme was delivering for children and young people from early years to employment.

Among the claimed benefits of the three-year programme, launched in October 2016, is that it helps to develop innovative practices that can be rolled out nationwide.

In his letter Halfon, who chairs the parliamentary session, writes: "We welcome the focus of opportunity areas on improving social justice and supporting disadvantaged communities, but we're not convinced that the programme is the most effective method of achieving such aims.

"We have concerns over the value for money that the programme offers. The £2 million spent on administration costs could be far better spent helping children and young people directly on the front line and the additional structure creates confusion and duplication in the system.

"There are also questions over how the effectiveness of opportunity areas is measured. 

"We are unconvinced that we will be able to see improved outcomes for children and young people from early years through to improvement. 

"How the programme is spreading effective practice to other areas is also far from clear.

"This is particularly worrying given the number of disadvantaged communities not covered by opportunity areas."

At a May 2019 evidence session, local board leaders passionately defended the work amid questioning over whether it may be sucking resources from other disadvantaged areas.

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