Education secretary announces £60m ‘opportunity areas’

The creation of new ‘opportunity areas’ across England will see £60 million spent on school improvement, teacher support and other schemes in six social mobility ‘coldspots’, Justine Greening has announced.

The education secretary told the Conservative Party Conference that the policy would aim to give children “the best start in life, no matter what their background”, and would focus initially on intervention in Blackpool, Derby, Norwich, Oldham, Scarborough, and West Somerset, before expanding to four more areas in the ‘coming months’.

Although the proposal is similar to the ‘achieving excellence areas’ policy outlined in the white paper in March, the new plan targets very different regions. The regions were identified as having the lowest social mobility in the country.

Ensuring all children can access high-quality education at every stage is critical

Under the proposal, money will be spent building teaching and leadership capacity in schools and improving access to careers advice with the help of the Careers and Enterprise Company. The National Citizen Service will also be involved, although it is not clear if these organisations will be handed extra cash.

The 10 areas will also have access to a wider £75 million ‘Excellence in Leadership and Teaching Fund’, which appears to be the expansion of another proposal from the white paper – the Excellence in Leadership Fund – which was aimed at encouraging academy trusts and other providers to “innovate” in how they boost leadership.

At the same time, Derby, Scarborough and West Somerset will also receive support through the National Collaborative Outreach Programme, which runs summer schools, school visits and academic mentoring.?

“Ensuring all children can access high-quality education at every stage is critical,” Greening told the conference. “This is about giving children in these areas the right knowledge and skills, advice at the right time, and great experiences.

“My department will work with local authorities, education and skills providers, businesses, and the wider community, not just to focus on what we can do to help inside schools, but also create the opportunities outside school that will raise sights and broaden horizons for young people.”

The last government’s original ‘achieving excellence areas’ were chosen based on 11 indicators, with five relating to education standards such as access to a good secondary school and attainment and progress data. A further six were due to measure schools’ capacity to improve, including availability of academy sponsors in the area and initial teacher training provider coverage.

A map in the white paper documents even highlighted the areas which were considered most ‘weak’, including Northumberland, Middlesborough, the East Midlands, the East Riding of Yorkshire, Norfolk and parts of Cambridgeshire.

But doubts were shed on the future of the policy in August, just one month ahead of the planned pilot, after it was revealed the government had not revealed exactly which areas would get the first support before the summer recess.

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  1. Nothing in her speech about recruitment and retention. School place supply highlighted the need for allowing schools to be set up where ‘good’ places were allegedly needed thus implying all new schools would be ‘good’ (not the case). However, this gives to go-ahead for free schools to be opened where there are already surplus places. Nothing on vocational education except a puff for UTCs. Little about school funding except she’s throwing a few million at ‘opportunity areas’ – this will go nowhere in ensuring all state schools in England are adequately funded. The woeful state of careers education and guidance in England is mentioned only in the context to the quango called The Careers and Enterprise Company. Nothing on the chaos surrounding testing.
    Plenty of praise, though, for Gove’s reforms and a return to selection.

  2. Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE

    We need to reinstate high quality impartial and independent careers advice back into local communities. Since 2013, at least 25 reports have been published calling on government to ensure young people (and their parents) understand the careers offer available to them. To make our country one that works for everyone, not just the privileged few, government needs to ensure young people (and adults) access to trained and qualified career development professionals who work alongside employers, employees, mentors, enterprise co-ordinators, HR and recruitment specialists, DWP advisers and volunteers.
    The new Secretary of State and Minister for Careers both have a chance to make a positive difference by publicly acknowledging that “the right advice at the time” came from the National Careers Service (2012). Statistics show this service is working well for most adults, particularly vulnerable groups, and schools appreciate the labour market intelligence/information provided to them. For CEC and the National Careers Service to achieve impact now is the time to harness the Gatsby Benchmark 8 – Every pupil should have opportunities for guidance interviews with a career adviser. Having more encounters with employers and employees is essential but this is ‘low hanging fruit’. Young people in social mobility “coldspots” need to have access to independent and impartial trained careers advisers, similar to those who attend grammar and independent schools.