West Somerset Opportunity Area has appointed a new leader to take the Government’s flagship social mobility programme into its fourth year.

Professor Colin Diamond CBE takes over as chairman of the West Somerset Opportunity Area’s independent partnership board from Dr Fiona McMillan who made a significant contribution to the programme’s successes over the first three years, including achieving its early years target so more children start school with the skills they need to learn.

Professor Diamond worked as a teacher before moving into senior educational leadership roles, including for Somerset County Council where he was a group manager and then assistant director from 1996 to 2000.

He also worked in the South West Government Office, Department for Education and Birmingham Local Authority.

He is currently Professor of Educational Leadership at Birmingham University and has lived in Somerset for over 20 years.

Professor Diamond’s appointment comes at a pivotal point in the Opportunity Area programme.

In July, minister Michelle Donelan announced funding allocations and more information about the £18 million year 4 extension – which will include work across government and £1million for the 12 Opportunity Areas to ‘twin’ with another place to improve outcomes.

Professor Diamond said: “Education has the power to transform the lives of children by giving them the skills, experiences and opportunities to succeed, whatever their background.

“The Opportunity Area is already having impact in levelling up outcomes and has hosted conferences to share some of the most successful projects for professionals in the wider region so even more children start school with the skills they need to learn and thrive.

“We can build on what’s worked to create lasting change for young people here in West Somerset and elsewhere by sharing our experience and knowledge with other places facing similar challenges.”

West Somerset Opportunity Area has already achieved its target of improving outcomes for five-year-olds so they have the skills they need to start school and learn.

Following it’s focus on early years, the ‘Good Level of Development’ (GLD) – a key indicator in the proportion of pupils reaching these early learning goals – has risen year on year from 57 per cent in 2016 to 73 per cent in 2019.