We won’t know if opportunity areas have worked until at least 2021

The government won’t be able to gauge the impact of a £72 million project to boost social mobility in 12 “opportunity areas” until after 2020, its own research has found.

John Rodger, a partner with York Consulting hired by the government to evaluate the success of the  programme, has warned that expectations “may be set too high” and that evaluation may take longer than expected.

The government has named Blackpool, Derby, Norwich, Oldham, Scarborough, West Somerset, Bradford, Doncaster, Fenland and East Cambridgeshire, Hastings, Ipswich and Stoke-on-Trent as its 12 opportunity areas.

It is unlikely that any impact against the headline indicators at local area level will be detected by 2020

They are areas identified as having low levels of social mobility, and their schools and councils will receive a share of the funding pot, to be used to build teaching and leadership capacity, and improve access to careers advice.

The government wants to evaluate the project by measuring changes in certain indicators, such as the quality of schools, and pupil progress and attainment, over the next three years.

However, the Department for Education’s own analysis has warned that officials will likely have to wait much longer than expected to find out if the programme has had the desired effect.

Rodger’s research has been published as part of a summary of projects carried out by the DfE’s “analytical associate pool”.

In it, he warns that there may be no impact whatsoever on social mobility indicators at a local level within the three-year evaluation timescale set for the project.

“Given the diverse and overlapping nature of the interventions it is unlikely that any impact against the headline indicators at local area level will be detected by 2020,” he wrote.

“It might be necessary to set a longer time horizon to allow sufficient headline outcomes to materialise.”

He also pointed out that it is “unlikely that significant progress will be evident” in national social mobility data , and believes officials should also plan to monitor progress at that level “over a longer timescale”.

A DfE spokesperson said the opportunity areas were developing plans to tackle social mobility challenges, including “ambitions for what they will achieve within the first year and beyond”.

“As the education secretary said in her speech at the Sutton Trust last month, we know that tackling social mobility is a generational challenge,” she said.

“We will also be reviewing the overall success of the programme to help share best practice across the country, in addition to the work that will be led by the Education Endowment Foundation through their research schools.”

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