Extending the Opportunity Area programme

Oldham opportunity area (OA) was launched in 2017 by the government as one of 12 OAs to raise education standards. The OA brings together national and local government, education leaders, teachers, voluntary organisations and employers.

At the time the OA launched, Oldham ranked 294th out of 324 districts in the social mobility index. It was 34th most deprived out of 326 areas in England in the 2015 index of multiple deprivation. .

For the last three years, we have worked hard to deliver a programme of work designed to help the young people of Oldham realise their potential. Today, Minister Michelle Donelan announced the exciting news that there will be OA funding for an extra 12 months. During this time, we’ll continue to focus on our three priorities:

  • Early Years: ensuring all children are ready for school by the age of 5.
  • Attainment: raising attainment for all pupils and raising it fastest for disadvantaged pupils.
  • Preparing for the future: helping all children and young people prepare for life, learning and work.

The chair of our board, James Kempton, said:

“I am delighted by the Government’s decision to continue supporting the young people in Oldham by extending the Opportunity Area funding into another year. Our mission is to ensure that young people growing up here have access to the same sort of opportunities to succeed that you find in other parts of the country.

Over the past three years Oldham Opportunity Area has begun to make an impact, but there is still plenty for us to do. We will focus on strengthening the offer for Early Years children, driving school improvement by reshaping the way schools are supported, and helping our young people to access vocational training and the best universities. The social and economic impact of COVID has left many of our young people concerned about their futures. This makes our work even more crucial over the coming months.”

Over the next 12 months our projects will include:

Early Years: Speech Language and Communication

In the 2015/16 academic year, only 60.5% of children in the Oldham Opportunity Area achieved a Good Level of Development (GLD) at age five compared nationally to 69.3% of children. Through our partnership with Making It Real, we targeted eight of our most deprived wards. This hard work contributed towards a big improvement in 2019, when 68.1% of children in Oldham achieved GLD.

Despite this heartening progress, there is still some way to go and we will continue our focus on this area in the next 12 months. In particular, we’ll support our most disadvantaged wards to make sure progress continues in closing the deprivation gap.

Oldham Learning

In 2017, a quarter of the town’s state-funded secondary schools were rated ‘requires improvement’ or inadequate. This meant too many children and young people in Oldham were falling behind. Our disadvantaged pupils often made the least progress.

In the next 12 months, we will focus on the creation and implementation of Oldham Learning. For the first time, Oldham will have a system-led partnership that will set the direction for school improvement. The partnership will have the ability to agree and commission work programmes across the borough. Oldham Learning will direct investment and oversee activity to ensure there is a stable supply of high-quality teachers in Oldham. The group will also focus on support and professional development for school leaders, curriculum colleagues, teachers and governors.

Support for vulnerable learners

The work of the OA Mental Wellbeing team over the past three years has ensured that over 90% of our schools now have a mental wellbeing lead in place. Over 97% of schools have done a mental health self-assessment and put an action plan in place to improve.
We will continue to build on that excellent progress to make sure some of our most vulnerable children and young people aren’t missed. This will include looked-after children (CLA) and Social Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) pupils.

We will also continue to build staff capacity to support our young people’s mental wellbeing in schools. This will be through bespoke training and the continuation of an online portal that provides schools with access to specialist services.

Youth engagement

The Oldham Opportunity Area has put youth engagement at the heart of its programme. We have worked with the local authority youth service to train and accredit young people in research and engagement. The Oldham OA young ambassadors continue to be at the heart of our work. We will support them in further development and accreditation in research and leadership.

Progression opportunities into employment and higher education

In the coming months, our young people will experience increased challenges when seeking a job or a university place. As a result of COVID, we will likely see an increase in youth unemployment in the borough. To support young people, we will deliver projects that provide opportunities for progression into employment and higher education. These projects will be co-designed with our team of young ambassadors.

Sharing learning

We have learned a lot over the past three years and will continue to do so over the next 12 months. One of our new areas of focus will be to evaluate and share our insights with other areas. In particular, we will partner with a neighbouring authority, to make sure make sure we get maximum benefits from this extra year of activity.

To stay up-to-date with the latest news, follow us on Twitter: @OldhamOA

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