Government unveils six new ‘opportunity areas’

Government unveils six new 'opportunity areas' to target schools in 'social mobility cold spots'

CREDIT: This story was first seen in TES

Education secretary Justine Greening will today name six new “opportunity areas” and 12 research schools as part of the government’s efforts to use education to improve social mobility, TES reports.

Bradford, Doncaster, Fenland and East Cambridgeshire, Hastings, Ipswich and Stoke will join the original six areas, all in “social mobility cold spots”, announced last October.

A key aim of the programme is to build teaching and leadership capacity in schools, which are expected to work with early years providers, colleges, universities, businesses, charities and local authorities to build young people’s knowledge and skills, and give them the best careers advice and opportunities.

The move comes the day after MPs said “patchy” careers advice in schools was damaging social mobility.

Ms Greening said education was “central” to breaking down barriers to social mobility, and added: “Opportunity areas will help local children get the best start in life, no matter what their background. Ensuring all children can access high-quality education at every stage is critical.

“We will focus not just 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.”

She is also due to say that there will be a research school in each of the 12 opportunity areas, established by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), a charity that aims to break the link between family income and educational attainment.

The government said the research schools, funded by £1.5m from the Department for Education and £2m from the EEF, would “lead the development and dissemination of evidence-led practice in local schools”.

They will be existing schools, acting as “local excellence hubs” for evidence-based practice, and will create training and resources, and work directly with local schools to “build their capacity to use evidence in their decision-making”.

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The EEF plans to spread what is learned from the research schools across the country.

The government originally said it would set up 10 opportunity areas, with total funding of £60 million. Today’s announcement increases the number to 12, with funding rising proportionately to £72m.

The previously announced opportunity areas were Blackpool, Derby, Norwich, Oldham, Scarborough and West Somerset.

The DfE said it expected to “shortly” have plans in each of these existing opportunity areas that would explain their specific local problems, and what they would do about it.

All of the 12 opportunity areas are in the worst performing 20% of local authorities for social mobility cold spots, as identified by the government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission last year.

Four are on the list of the 10 worst areas for cold spots, and a further two are on the list of the worst 20.

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