To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of Opportunity Areas in improving educational outcomes for disadvantaged children.
14 December 2020
The effectiveness of the Opportunity Areas (OAs) in improving educational outcomes for disadvantaged children is being assessed in 2 main ways.
My officials sit on the local partnership boards in each of the 12 areas and work closely with the relevant local authority to design, procure, and monitor each local board’s chosen projects. Progress on every single project, across all 12 areas, is assessed on a monthly basis. Monthly spending figures, along with local intelligence regarding the take-up and effectiveness of different projects, is reported back to the department every month and reviewed by the senior official responsible for the programme as a whole. We continue to receive very positive feedback on the programme from schools and other stakeholders in each of the 12 areas.
In addition to this, the programme is subject to a detailed, formal evaluation process. Given the entrenched nature of some educational attainment issues, progress on any given measure is always likely to take time and be incremental. We are monitoring the programme very closely.
The evaluation has 3 main elements:
- a qualitative evaluation, for the programme as a whole, being carried out by an external, independent contractor, the findings from which will be published in due course;
- 5 smaller evaluations looking at individual projects in particular OAs (Blackpool, Bradford, Hastings, Norwich and North Yorkshire Coast), the findings from which will be published in the spring or summer of 2021; and
- an internal evaluation by the department’s analysts assessing the impact of the programme by comparing the progress made in the OAs against similar non-OA districts.
Analysis of data from the academic year 2018/19 suggests the OAs are on a positive trajectory. For example:
- early years outcomes for disadvantaged pupils have improved in 9 of the 12 OAs;
- phonics results for all pupils have increased in 10 of the 12 OAs; and
- key stage 2 combined attainment data for all pupils has increased by more than the national rate (between 2016 and 2019) in 10 of the 12 OAs.
To give some specific examples of progress towards the national average:
- in Oldham, the proportion of all children achieving a good level of development rose 4 percentage points in the academic year 2018/19, to 68.1%, a significant step towards closing the gap with the national average, which increased 0.2 percentage points in that same period to 71.5%.
- in Bradford, the proportion of pupils who achieved the expected level in reading, writing and maths at Key Stage 2 rose 2.1 percentage points to 62.7% in in the academic year 2018/19, a significant step towards closing the gap with the national average, which rose by 0.4 percentage points to 65.3% over the same period.
- in Blackpool, the proportion of children achieving the expected standard in phonics in the academic year 2018/19 rose by 1.5 percentage points to 82.2%, putting it above the national average of 81.8%.