WEST Somerset must change its school system if it is to produce the best outcomes for its youngsters, councillors warned this week.

Cllrs Peter Murphy and Susan Goss, both of whom are former teachers, said West Somerset's three-tier system meant children were automatically at a disadvantage when it came to exam time.

The issue was raised as West Somerset Council debated a report regrading West Somerset's Opportunity Area funding, up to £6m the government is investing to help improve social mobility in the district.

According to the government's 2016 social mobility index, a child from a disadvantaged background in West Somerset stands less of a chance of getting good grades and a good job than anywhere else in the country.

Newly appointed West Somerset Opportunity Area manager Jan Downie explained that the vision for the funding would be directed at four priority areas: improving teaching for Early Years, increasing standards at Key Stage 1 and 2, broadening the learning offer at Key Stage 3 and improving work experience and apprenticeship opportunities.

But Cllr Murphy said: "As a former teacher myself, I am always pleased to see money going into education.

"But in my experience the move from middle school to college is disruptive and automatically disadvantages children.

"The structural system of education in West Somerset needs to be looked at or I fear the solutions will evade us."

Cllr Murphy said parents of children in Dulverton were already looking to Kingsmeade School in Wiveliscombe to join a two-tier system, while Cllr Goss said many children from Stogursey benefitted from going on to the likes of Haygrove in Bridgwater.

Cllr Murphy continued: "Many authorities have made the transition. I recognise that it comes with difficulties but I think it is something that should be seriously considered."

During the meeting Cllr Murphy also pointed out one of the aims of priority tree was to 'work with West Somerset College to widen the offer to include vocational learning opportunities, making use of the industry standard facilities in situ'.

Cllr Murphy said: "It seems to me that this means the Farm Unit, which has already had its livestock sold and its two farm technicians made redundant, as well as other areas of vocational learning at the College which as faced a severe reduction in recent years.

"It is money to put back what should never have been removed, but that is not to say we will not be grateful if it is done."

Cllr Keith Turner said he was pleased see that funding would be going into formative years.

"I think it is good that there are programmes to work not just with the children but with some young parents too," he said. "Some young parents do not have a clue and need support and I welcome these initiatives to support them."

Jan Downie said that West Somerset was unlike most the other Opportunity Areas that had been identified by the Government.

"West Somerset faces distinctly different challenges from areas like Bradford or Bolton. We are a rural area with a sparse population, but apart from Danesfield, all of our schools have an Ofsted rating of Good or better."

However, chief executive of West Somerset Academy Trust, Paul Rushforth, defended the three-tier system.

“Where three-tier systems have high achieving schools they actually outperform two-tier systems. The majority of schools in West Somerset are now within a multi-academy trust which works in a similar way to an all through system.

“Quality of teaching and the level of funding are the issues that need to be addressed and I am surprised the two-tier system has come up again.”

Mr Rushforth said the Opportunity Area funding presented exciting opportunities and its investment had been well planned.