Opportunity areas to be twinned to support school pupils


Ministers have unveiled plans to twin 12 social mobility areas with other locations facing similar challenges to support disadvantaged pupils in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Of £18 million in funding for the government policy for the next academic year, Michelle Donelan – the minister leading the project – has said £1 million will be ring-fenced to support the twinning move.

The government has already named the opportunity areas – Blackpool, Bradford, Derby, Doncaster, Fenland and East Cambridgeshire, Hastings, Ipswich, North Yorkshire Coast, Norwich, Oldham, Stoke-on-Trent and West Somerset – but is yet to announce where they will twin with.

Then education secretary Justine Greening first unveiled the project in 2016, with £72 million split across three years until August 2020, although it was extended in November 2019 when an additional £18 million was committed.

Helping pupils to catch up

The government has recognised the need to help pupils to catch up with their learning after schools were closed during the pandemic, in addition to other priorities around teacher recruitment and retention and developing early speech and language skills.

Most of the opportunity areas have already taken action to help pupils catch up, with the Department for Education highlighting how they have introduced classroom support, plans for holiday clubs and online tutoring for key subjects.

Ms Donelan described the response of the opportunity areas as “heroic” and said co-ordinated approaches have been key to overcoming the challenges they face.

“Now as we chart a course to recovery, we will build on the programme’s success so far to benefit young people on new areas and level up their life chances,” she said.

“We know that we can tackle these barriers move effectively when we come together across our different policy areas and by harnessing the expertise and experience of these dedicated professionals.”

Each opportunity area will receive a share of the £18 funding for the next year of the project, ranging from £1,970,000 for Blackpool down to £980,000 for West Somerset.

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