Opportunity knocks for West Somerset - 11 October 2017

West Somerset is one of 12 Opportunity Areas across the country receiving the Government funding to improve social mobility and make sure children get the best start in life, whatever their background.

Last Autumn Education Secretary Justin Greening announced the three years of funding for projects and schemes to lift educational achievement, improve employment prospects and raise ambitions.  West Somerset will get a share of £60m being spent across the areas, though an exact figure is not yet known.

Yesterday, deliver plans for each area were published, along with an additional £22m to be shared among the areas through a new Essential Life Skills program. The aim is to help disadvantaged children develop wider skills such as resilience, emotional wellbeing and employability.

The program will complement the individual Opportunity Area plans by providing extra-curricular activities, such as sports, volunteering and social action projects, which give pupils the opportunity to develop leadership skills.

Projects are being developed by the West Somerset Opportunity Area Partnership Board, chaired by Dr Fiona McMillan OBE.  Its membership includes representatives from Somerset County Council, West Somerset Council, local schools and employers.

Board member Councillor Frances Nicholson, Somerset County Council’s Cabinet member for Children and Families, said: “The Education Secretary is right to recognise that young people’s chances of getting on in life can be affected by where they live.

“West Somerset is a wonderful place, however, its sparsity, geography and rurality do make it more difficult for young people growing up here to have the opportunities they might find in urban areas.  I welcome the plans to bring extra focus and resources to making a real difference to the area and its young people’s prospects.

“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 build young people’s knowledge and skills”.

The 12 Opportunity Areas were chosen in recognition of the challenges young people face in education and employment.  These have been highlighted by the Social Mobility Index which looks at the chances of children from different backgrounds doing well at school and getting a good job.

Councillor Mandy Chilcott, Deputy Leader for West Somerset District Council who works with the board said “We welcome the Education Secretary’s commitment to improve the opportunities for our young people.  I believe that by working together the government, schools, businesses, universities and community can help ensure our children get the best start in life.  We need to make sure there are opportunities available to help them achieve their potential and make sure they are not disadvantaged just because of the area they happen to live in.”

Statistics show that West Somerset is the lowest ranked district in the country for social mobility, with children not achieving the same academic success as colleagues across the county and nationally – though there is evidence that the gap is closing.  The area also has economic challenges, with low average incomes combined with high house prices.

Fiona McMillan, said “I am delighted to have been asked to Chair the West Somerset Opportunity Area Partnership Board.  Our vision is to create an environment where no child in West Somerset is left behind.  We know that by truly working together with local and national stakeholders who share our vision, we can make a difference over the next three years.  No one school, college, university or employer can improve social mobility on their own and it’s vital we work together”.

If you would like to keep in touch with the West Somerset Opportunity Area please sign up to our twitter account @WestSomersetOA