Opportunity Areas, stakeholders and £6M

On Thursday last week, I took the chance to attend a breakfast meeting about the Government’s Opportunity Area programme for East Cambridgeshire and Fenland.

Over the coming three years, £6M will be spent on this programme with the overall aim of improving ‘social mobility’ in these two districts.  The money will not be spent by schools, but by the Government – expenditure is determined by the Department for Education Head of Delivery based on the recommendations of the local Partnership Board.

The programme’s stated priorities, established by local ‘stakeholders’, are to:

  1. Accelerate the progress of disadvantaged children and young people in the acquisition and development of communication, language and reading.
  2. Strengthen the effectiveness of support for children and young people with mental health concerns and those with Special Educational Needs.
  3. Raise aspiration and increase access for young people to a wide range of career choices and post-16 routes.
  4. Recruit, develop and retain the best leaders and teachers in Fenland and East Cambridgeshire.

These are all laudable aims, but I was left with a number of nagging doubts and unanswered questions.

How will the Government achieve all these aims in three years, during which the tide of its own decisions and those of the county council is flowing in completely the opposite direction: benefits cuts, closure of children’s centres, fragmentation of school meals provision, spiralling transport costs for over-16s attending sixth form or other educational provision?

Even if the programme makes a difference in these three years, how will it continue to do so after the funding ends and the Government team has packed up and gone home?  What will it actually, practically achieve that will be of enduring value?

What is the programme trying to convey to councillors and others invited to meetings like this?  It says it wants to ‘spread the word’ – but what message does it want to give, and what if anything does it want people to do to engage with the programme and its aspirations?  Does it want to connect with people beyond the ‘stakeholders’ who were originally invited to be involved, and who have advised the Government on how this £6M should be spent?

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