Press release

Education Secretary announces 6 new opportunity areas

Opportunity areas will create local partnerships with early years providers, schools, colleges, universities, businesses, charities and LAs.

Children with their hands up in class

Today (Wednesday 18 January), speaking at the offices of PwC at an event jointly hosted with the Sutton Trust, Education Secretary Justine Greening set out the role of education in removing obstacles to social mobility, and the importance, as Britain prepares for its future outside the European Union, of ensuring that all young people can fulfil their potential.

Justine Greening said:

As the Prime Minister has set out, we are facing a moment of great change as a nation. With our departure from the European Union, we will need to define an ambitious new role for ourselves in the world. For Britain to succeed we must be a country where everyone has a fair chance to go as far as their talent and their hard work will allow. 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.

I want to see more disadvantaged young people attending the very best universities, winning places on apprenticeships, entering the top professions, and progressing through the most rewarding careers – and I want employers to do more to draw out the potential and talents of all.

The Education Secretary announced the expansion of the opportunity areas programme to a further 6 areas across England, along with a new £3.5 million programme that will see the Education Endowment Foundation establish a research school for each of the 12 opportunity areas.

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.

In October, the Education Secretary announced that 6 social mobility ‘coldspots’ (Blackpool, Derby, Norwich, Oldham, Scarborough, and West Somerset) would become opportunity areas, which will see local partnerships formed with early years providers, schools, colleges, universities, businesses, charities and local authorities to ensure all children and young people have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

A key aim of opportunity areas is to build young people’s knowledge and skills and provide them with the best advice and opportunities, including working with organisations such as the Careers and Enterprise Company, the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses, and the National Citizen Service. The Department for Education (DfE) will target its programmes to ensure children get the best start in the early years, to build teaching and leadership capacity in schools, to increase access to university, to strengthen technical pathways for young people, and work with employers to improve young people’s access to the right advice and experiences. DfE will work with each opportunity area to respond to local priorities and needs - because each area will have its own challenges.

Justine Greening today announced that the programme will now be expanded to 12 opportunity areas, adding Bradford, Doncaster, Fenland & East Cambridgeshire, Hastings, Ipswich and Stoke-on-Trent.

Increased DfE opportunity area funding of £72 million will support local education providers and communities to address the biggest challenges in the 12 areas, and opportunity areas will have priority access to other DfE support including the Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund worth £75 million, focused on supporting teachers and school leaders in challenging areas to develop.

A new £3.5 million programme, with £1.5 million coming from DfE and £2 million from the Education Endowment Foundation, will support the creation of a research school for each opportunity area. These schools will lead the development and dissemination of evidence-led practice in local schools.

Opportunity areas have been selected from areas identified in the social mobility index published by the Social Mobility Commission.

Responding to the expansion of opportunity areas, Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

The Education Secretary is right to recognise that a young person’s chance of getting on in life is affected by where they live.

Overall social mobility in Britain is low. Also there are certain areas where it is extremely low - so-called opportunity black spots. So I welcome the Education Secretary’s plans for ‘opportunity areas’. They will bring extra focus and resources to areas where disadvantaged young people find it a struggle to get on.

Laura Hinton, Head of People at PwC, said:

No one school, university or employer can improve social mobility on their own and it’s vital we work together on this. We’re proud of the steps we’ve taken to widen access to our profession and are now focusing on improving students’ awareness of the opportunities available and raising their aspirations. We support the government’s focus on opportunity areas and will use our UK footprint to work with more schools and students across the country.

The Rt Hon Alan Milburn, Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said:

Britain has a deep social mobility problem which is getting worse for a whole generation of young people and has left whole communities feeling left behind and socially hollowed out. One of the biggest barriers to social mobility in Britain today is an unfair education system, which is why the Commission has repeatedly called on the government to tackle the issues that prevent children from fulfilling their true potential.

We therefore welcome the Education Secretary’s commitment to addressing disadvantage in some of the nation’s social mobility coldspots. For opportunity areas to be a success, we need local communities, employers, schools and universities to work together with government to ensure that the chances of a child doing well in life no longer depend on where they have come from. We can no longer tolerate the quiet new assumption in many parts of the country that those from weaker economic areas have to move out to get on.

Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

Improving educational standards in ‘coldspots’ is one of the biggest challenges we face in our drive to improve social mobility. While evidence of ‘what works’ is one of our most useful tools to do this, we know that research on its own is not enough to make a difference in the classroom.

Our new research schools will use their own expertise and experiences to provide strong leadership and guidance to schools in each opportunity area, supporting their colleagues to use research to improve pupil outcomes. No-one is better placed to support schools in doing this than teachers themselves.

Brett Wigdortz OBE, Founder and CEO of Teach First said:

Every child, wherever they are born, deserves a brilliant education and fair start in life. We’re delighted the Department for Education is expanding their opportunity areas, by investing in a further 6 communities that have for too long been left behind.

This is a welcome step in helping to transform young people’s lives. We know from experience it’s only when schools, businesses, local communities and government work together that a real and lasting change can be made.

I’m proud that Teach First already works in schools in many of these communities and we look forward to working closely with the government to increase the attainment and unlock the aspirations of pupils from all backgrounds.

Andrew Warren, Chair of Teaching Schools Council, said:

The Teaching Schools Council welcomes the expansion of opportunity areas and the positive impact that we believe these programmes can and will have, both in the short and longer term. This initiative is completely in keeping with our vision that every child goes to a great school: every child, whatever their background, whatever their postcode. We look forward to working with schools, RSCs, MATs, LAs and other partners to play our part in this exciting opportunity.

Dave Hill, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services said:

Additional support and investment for disadvantaged areas is a positive thing and we welcome the Department for Education working together with local authorities and others to achieve change. We must maintain a relentless focus on improving outcomes for children and young people at all times to ensure that this initiative helps them to achieve their full potential.

Read some further reaction to opportunity areas on our media blog.

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Published 18 January 2017