Education Secretary Justine Greening outlines her plan for West Somerset and the region will benefit from the government Opportunity Areas project:

WEST Somerset is a beautiful place to grow up. From the scenic expanse of Exmoor National Park to its pretty coastal towns – it has all the markings of an idyllic place to grow up.  

But the reality for young people growing up here doesn’t always match that image, so we need to create the opportunities for a successful future right here on their doorstep. For me, both as someone who went through the state school system and as Education Secretary, that means investing in the next generation, whatever someone’s background or who they are. 

It is my priority to make sure young people can go as far as their talents and hard work will take them, and to make sure they can be the best version of themselves. But government needs to do that in partnership with brilliant teachers, social workers and community leaders. 

In some parts of Somerset, like many other parts of the country, young people can’t see opportunities on their doorstep – or, if they do, they don’t end up benefitting from them. It could be that they feel unable to get the crucial work experience in the career they aspire to, or that the course they would love to do just isn’t available in their community. 

I want to make sure more young people get the opportunity to achieve their ambitions, no matter where they live. That’s why I named West Somerset as one of 12 Opportunity Areas across the country which are getting a share of £72 million so young people in their community are supported to realise their ambitions, whatever they are. Today we have published plans setting out how we will achieve this. 

A great deal of work has already taken place in the area to build the right foundations for success, through the support of the local ‘Early Years quality hub’ to encourage parents tackle early literacy at home and improving the learning environment outside of formal education. And West Somerset’s schools have already seen excellent progress, with the majority now rated highly by Ofsted. The Opportunity Areas plan published today sets out four priorities to build on this work further.

We have set out two ambitions to improve standards at all stages of a child’s education, knowing that their earliest experiences have a real impact on their success later in life. Firstly, we will start by improving education in the early years, to give as many children the best possible start in life, ensuring they are ready to start school and get the most out of education from that point onwards. The aim is to increase the number of eligible families taking up the government’s offer of 15 hours of free early education for disadvantaged two-year-olds from 69% to 80% over the next three years to give them the best basis for their learning and development.  

Secondly, there will be a focus on working with local schools, where there is already an encouraging story to tell, to improve pupils’ reading, writing and maths skills. Through specialist phonics and maths programmes with proven success, pupils will have the chance to excel in these subjects, moving West Somerset’s performance into the top half of the country.

By improving access to inspiring work experience opportunities, creating meaningful links with local employers, we will raise – and meet – young people’s career aspirations. Outreach projects, working with organisations such as EDF Energy, will support young people through a smoother transition into working life and encourage more to stay in education or training after the age of 16. 
Finally, the plan will support more young people to broaden their horizons and have the confidence to aim higher for themselves in life. Through this programme, we will support them to go on to higher education and to do well at top universities. There should be no limit to the aspirations of young people in West Somerset, and through the work of initiatives like an apprenticeship hub we will give them the tools to benefit from the resources available in their home town. 

Working together from early development through to higher education and experiences with local ‘cornerstone’ employers, who have committed to working with schools on mentoring and work experience, the plan set out today will boost the prospects and ambition of young people in West Somerset, proving that it’s not only a beautiful place to live but also one that is rich in opportunity. Where you are from should not be a barrier to fulfilling your ambitions, it should be the springboard to your future. 

It’s great to see these plans get underway and I’ll play my role in making sure the West Somerset Opportunity Area gets the progress and results that young people deserve. I encourage you all to read these plans, and to get involved if you can. 

By working together, we can create more opportunities for generations to come – and West Somerset will be in prime position to lead the way.