Written evidence submitted by The Northern Powerhouse Partnership





The Northern Powerhouse Education Consortium (the Consortium), an umbrella organisation consisting of six leading education organisations operating in the North of England, submitted joint evidence to the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (the Inquiry).


At a subsequent hearing of the Inquiry, we at the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) were called to give verbal evidence on behalf of the Consortium. Over the course of the hearing, NPPs Director was asked to provide the committee with further evidence detailing our assessment of the impact of Opportunity Areas. We are happy to provide this additional evidence, but the Committee should note that it is being submitted by NPP, and not on behalf of the wider Consortium.


As we stated in our initial written and verbal evidence to the Inquiry, it is our belief that Opportunity Areas with robust governance can provide a much-needed, locally-owned platform to tackle social mobility by encouraging local government, the voluntary sector and business to work together to give children the opportunity to achieve their potential. They allow a place-specific assessment of what works in terms of raising standards in deprived areas, and provide the opportunity for genuine locally-driven and tailored programmes that have the potential to generate transformational change in local communities.


We also recognise the sheer breadth of the programme, with work covering everything from early years through to post-19/careers advice, as well as child health related issues, and the development of life skills. We welcome that in choosing to not singularly focus on school improvement, Opportunity Areas are able to adopt far more varied and holistic approaches, recognising that the multiple factors at play in areas of long-term disadvantage exist far beyond the school gates.


We are therefore grateful for the opportunity to submit further evidence of the impact that Opportunity Areas are having in the North, and to make a number of suggestions regarding potential opportunities for improvement.



Remit and Funding



As the Inquiry will be aware, the Opportunity Area programme has two core objectives:

  1. To improve outcomes for children and young people in the twelve Opportunity Areas, from early years through to employment.
  2. To learn what works in these areas, capturing the challenges all areas share and what is unique to a particular place, and to spread effective practice to other areas.


A total of £72m was initially allocated to the programme, meaning that following initial scoping work, just under £6m was made available to be spent locally in each of the twelve areas. A further £18m was allocated to extend the programme to the end of August 2021 – around £1.5m more for each OA. The first payments went out to the areas in October 2017. By the end of September 2020, the areas had spent around £65m in total, with Bradford as the largest in England having received slightly more funding than other areas at around £8m.



Evaluating Impact



As is to be expected, Opportunity Areas are subject to and undertaking official evaluation processes, and we do not seek to supersede those in any way.


There are three main elements to official evaluation:


  1. National qualitative evaluation - Contracted to NatCen


The first wave of qualitative research was completed by NFER and focuses on implementation of the programme. This was published in October 2018. A further qualitative evaluation has been commissioned by DfE to cover the first 4 years of the OA programme, up to August 2021. This will explore the delivery and progress made through this place-based approach and ensure benefits, challenges and learnings are documented. A report of the findings is due to be published in Spring 2022.


  1. Intervention Level Evaluations (ILEs) - Contracted to York Consulting


Five smaller ‘intervention level’ evaluations (ILEs) are being conducted looking at individual projects/work strands within five different OAs (Blackpool, Bradford, Hastings, Norwich and North Yorkshire Coast). These were selected to build the DfE evidence base around what works and chosen on the basis that they are promising, novel and scalable interventions across a range of policy areas. These evaluations use a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods. Reports on the findings are due to be published in Spring/Summer 2021.  


  1. Quantitative assessment

In addition to these two strands of the evaluation, DfE analysts are currently assessing what can be done in a robust way to explore the impact of the programme quantitatively, including possibly using statistically-defined comparators to get at the net impact of the OAs programme, compared to areas which are not OAs. 



Evidence of impact to date

The first Opportunity Area interventions started in the academic year 2017/18, so the earliest signs of impact would be in the data for the academic 2018/19 academic years. The figures below from the DfE indicate that performance is on a positive trajectory in the Opportunity Areas, but on-going evaluation will be needed both to track this data and to be able to assess the extent to which the programme has directly caused these improvements.


Some initial progress to note:


Another way to assess progress is to compare the OAs to non-OA districts which are otherwise similar. For example:



Tackling social mobility in some of the most long-term disadvantaged communities in the country is evidently a long-term project, and while we are confident of the early signs of impact, we should acknowledge that demonstrating sustainable change over such a short time period is challenging. It is also important to recognise the unique challenges of meaningful evaluation this year, given the gaps in available data due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


Therefore in this additional evidence, we will seek to provide case studies from Opportunity Areas in the North, which we believe demonstrate the value and the potential of place-based and locally-driven strategies to tackle social mobility challenges.


These case studies reflect the range of areas which we believe Opportunity Areas can demonstrate impact, namely:


  1. Improving early years outcomes for children
  2. Improving outcomes for children in school
  3. Teacher recruitment and retention
  4. Developing essential life skills
  5. Specific support for vulnerable children and young people
  6. Supporting young people into career pathways


Our reflections for potential future improvements to the programme

As we stated in our initial evidence to the Inquiry, we welcome the way in which Opportunity Areas allow places the freedom to tackle often similar issues in a variety of ways most suited to each location. We have noted that long-term and thorough evaluation is required to ensure value for money and maximum impact. In this further evidence we will provide case studies which we believe demonstrate both the impact and the future potential of Opportunity Areas, but before that we would take this opportunity to offer some of our own reflections as to potential future improvements to the programme:


  1. To properly tackle disadvantage, especially in post Covid-19 recovery, the number of Opportunity Areas should increase to ensure coverage of all disadvantaged areas across the North of England.
  2. The geography of the increased number of Opportunity Areas should then be reduced, based on locally defined communities and typically with starting sizes of one or two Local Authority wards.
  3. To drive change, there needs to be more local leadership, more local involvement, and a broader focus with much more interagency work across the local public and community sectors, integrating with wider devolution powers and devolved budgets from housing to health.
  4. There could be clearer and more cohesive methodology to underpin and plan the work within Opportunity Areas. Programmes may benefit from a more rigorous examination of international best practice, which emphasise the need for certain conditions to be met in order for funds to be spent effectively.





Case studies



Improving early years outcomes for children

  1. Oldham – Making it REAL: Helping parents to ensure their children are school-ready by age 5
  2. North Yorkshire Coast – giving children a head start in life through high quality early years education



Improving outcomes for children in school

  1. Oldham – improving early literacy through high quality teaching
  2. Bradford – improving phonics to support early readers
  3. Doncaster – leadership development proves ‘Learning Matters’ to build solid foundations for all pupils
  4. Blackpool – enhancing the teaching of English to increase attainment and progress for all young people



Teacher recruitment and retention

  1. North Yorkshire Coast – attracting great teachers to the coast



Developing essential life skills

  1. Doncaster – EXPECT Summer: Providing enrichment for all young people, especially the most vulnerable



Specific support for vulnerable children and young people

  1. Bradford – bringing health services and schools together, developing evidence to drive improvements
  2. Blackpool – Team around the School: Collaborative approaches to keep young people in school



Supporting young people into career pathways

  1. Blackpool – Business partnerships improving career outcomes for young people

Improving early years outcomes for children


Oldham – Making it REAL: helping parents to ensure their children are school-ready by age five

In the 2015/16 academic year, only 60.5% of children in the Oldham Opportunity Area achieved a Good Level of Development (GLD) at age five compared to 69.3% of children nationally.


Making it REAL aims to ensure that children are school-ready by the age of five, integrating with the wider approach to school readiness across Greater Manchester driven by Lucy Powell MP, who was asked to champion this by Metro Mayor Andy Burnham. It targets eight of the most deprived wards and trains practitioners to work with parents through home visits and literacy events. It increases parental confidence to support children’s early literacy and development.


As part of the Making it REAL project, early years practitioners have provided intensive support to children by working directly with their parents (through 1,875 home visits and literacy events), an additional value to this activity being that other pupils in the class received benefits indirectly. 98% of respondents to the family survey reported doing more to support their children's learning at home as a result of taking part in Making it REAL and the early findings suggest there is correlation between parental confidence and the proportions of children achieving GLD.


Of the children taking part in Making it REAL, 66.1% achieved GLD in 2019 (exceeding the 65% target). This has contributed to the significant increase in Oldham overall: in 2019, 68.1% of children in Oldham achieved GLD, an improvement to the position in 2018 when 64.1% of children achieved GLD. In 2018, Oldham ranked 151 out of 152 local authorities, but 2019 data has improved Oldham’s ranking to 129. Oldham has more than halved the gap to the national average which is now 3.7 percentage points.


£700,000 was originally committed to Making it REAL in Oldham. 31 schools and settings have completed the programme, reaching 256 children directly. The programme has also reached 197 siblings and an additional 742 families have attended at least one of the 226 literacy events. The programme has expanded to include numeracy, and literacy for children aged 0-2, via children's centres, with match funding from the local authority. In 2020-21, the Opportunity Area is providing £40,000 to work with a new cohort of children and settings. Practitioner training and parental workshops are being delivered online or in Covid-secure locations close to home, with schools and settings able to draw on capacity developed over previous years to mitigate staff absences. 


North Yorkshire Coast – giving children a head start in life through high quality early years education

In the 2015/16 academic year, 63% of children on the North Yorkshire Coast achieved a Good Level of Development at age five compared to 69.3% nationally. Overall, children in the area were demonstrating particularly low levels of speech, language and communication (SLC).


By working collaboratively with Coventry University who have CU Scarborough in the town and the local Teaching School, the North Yorkshire Coast Opportunity Area has developed and funded a three-pronged evidence-based programme for early years improvement:

Published data for the 2018/19 academic year shows that the percentage of children achieving a Good Level of Development at age 5 had risen by six percentage points to 69% against 71.9% nationally, helping to close the gap between children in the North Yorkshire Coast Opportunity Area and their peers in the rest of the country.


The Opportunity Area has committed £800k to delivering these three interventions, and an estimated 1,700 children in the early years have benefitted to date. In addition, the home learning environment programme has supported almost 100 parents with pre-school aged children to encourage learning in the home environment.




Improving outcomes for children in school


Oldham – improving early literacy through high quality teaching

In 2018, Oldham’s phonics performance was the second lowest in the country (measured at local authority level), with 77% of children achieving the expected standard at the end of year 1 compared to 82% nationally. Responding to a survey of schools self-reporting their phonics practice, the Oldham Opportunity Area developed a package of support which enabled schools to access a masterclass in the ‘Read, Write, Inc’ or ‘Letters and Sounds’ approaches. These were offered by Ruth Miskin Limited, and by The Arch English Hub in Rochdale. 


In Spring 2019, 29 eligible schools – over a third of Oldham’s primary schools – joined a one-day phonics training session in one of the two programmes. Feedback from participating schools was positive and follow-up visits were arranged with schools to support them to implement learning from the sessions.


The latest data for 2019 indicates Oldham’s phonics performance improved to 79%, closing the gap to national average from 5 percentage points to 2.8 percentage points. The national average has remained at 82%.


Oldham Opportunity Area invested £50,000 in 2019-20, expanding the offer through a local Teaching School Alliance which supported the two-day training with practitioner networks and implementation support. The Opportunity Area will provide £35,000 in 2020-21, with match funding from the local authority, to target schools which have yet to participate, plus those schools which would benefit from ongoing support. 


Bradford – improving phonics to support early readers

Bradford Opportunity Area schools were originally offered support to improve their phonics results by Ruth Miskin Training. Funded through the Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund (TLIF), the Ruth Miskin programme offered ‘whole-school’ literacy training and development for up to 10 primary schools.


As a response to feedback from schools that the financial outlay required to purchase the resources required for the training programme was a barrier to participation, the Bradford Opportunity Area provided a further £63,000 to fund five schools to access Ruth Miskin's 'Read Write Inc' programme in the 2018/19 academic year, covering the full cost of resources. As can be seen across the examples from other Opportunity Areas, the local focus is on supporting the effective implementation of well-evidenced programmes.


All five schools participating schools have significantly improved their phonics results and are now at or above the national average of 82%. In addition, the Bradford Opportunity Area and Bradford's English Hub are making a further £175,000 available to help improve phonics outcomes in Bradford:


Doncaster – leadership development proves ‘Learning Matters’ to build solid foundations for all pupils

In 2016, the proportion of pupils in Doncaster meeting the expected standard in reading, writing and maths at the end of Key Stage 2 was eight percentage points lower than for pupils nationally.


The Doncaster Opportunity Area Partnership Board funded the design, development and delivery of a new CPD programme strongly underpinned by EEF evidence of what works and the principles of good implementation. It aims to enable leaders and schools to implement effective, long-term change to improve practice and achieve sustainable impact on pupil outcomes. The project ran with 10 targeted Doncaster schools, with a total of 3,825 pupils.

Average attainment for reading, writing and maths for the schools in the cohort increased by 10 percentage points from 54% to 64% between 2017/18 and 2018/19. Also, in 2017/18, only one of the 10 target schools had attainment in line with or above the national average, but in 2018/19, seven of the 10 target schools’ attainment was in line with, or above, the national average.


The Opportunity Area has provided just over £300,000 to fund the programme, including extending the CPD offer to run for two further cohorts of 15 schools each.


Blackpool – enhancing the teaching of English to increase attainment and progress for all young people

Blackpool Opportunity Area’s Key Stage 3 literacy project is building capability in the school system to drive up standards in literacy, improving the reading abilities of students in all Blackpool secondary schools.


All participating schools have delivered two years of a programme of literacy development, which includes the completion of GL assessment[1] progress tests across all pupils in years seven, eight and nine (over 3,500 pupils annually) with improvements in reading ability seen across all year groups and cohorts of pupils with highest need identified and further additional support put in place. This has been achieved through including the prioritisation of literacy development at Key Stage 3 within school improvement plans, introduction of termly updates directly to school/MAT governing bodies, the training of specialist Literacy and Data leads within each school, and the introduction and implementation of a range of Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) evidence-based approaches, resulting in, for example, dedicated timetabled reading time for all pupils across all schools. Schools are championing reading and literacy as essential enablers for pupils to fully access the wider curriculum and are sharing information and data, effective practice and resources to support reading and literacy improvements across the town.


The project has been match funded by the education charity Right to Succeed and the GL assessment results have also helped to inform further OA projects to support improvements in literacy including Key Stage 4 English and speech, language and communication projects, a town-wide reading campaign with the National Literacy Trust, and contribution to the development of a 10-year Literacy strategy for the town.

Teacher Recruitment and Retention


North Yorkshire Coast – attracting great teachers to the coast

Head teachers on the North Yorkshire Coast highlighted the challenges they face in their attempts to attract high-quality teachers to positions, particularly those from outside the area. This is in part due to the geographical location of the area, and distance from major conurbations, teaching schools and universities providing initial teacher training (ITT) courses.


In order to combat this, the North Yorkshire Coast Opportunity Area launched an innovative project where teacher recruitment was centralised through a single consultancy service. The service works with schools to understand current, and future vacancies; develop recruitment materials to advertise the post; and talk to candidates about suitability for the role, and how to submit an effective application.


Schools now receive support from a recruitment expert with extensive experience in the industry. This has resulted in recruitment rounds being processed more quickly, with initial evidence that posts are receiving a higher number of applications than in the past. The project has recruited to more than 200 school leader, teacher and support staff roles. As a result, all secondary schools in North Yorkshire Coast were fully staffed for the start of the 2019 academic year, with the exception of one maths teaching post. This has also reduced the overall level of spend on supply and agency staff over the last 18 months.


In addition, the creation of a bespoke marketing campaign for the area has ensured the unique selling points of the North Yorkshire Coast has been articulated to potential applicants for teaching. At present, approximately one-fifth of vacant posts have been filled by people from outside the Opportunity Area, ensuring new teaching talent has made its way into the area.


Financial incentives have been added to hard-to-fill posts – this has focussed on EBacc subjects and Primary leadership posts to date. This provides an additional financial incentive to take up a post, as well as support to relocate to the area. This enhanced package has so far been used with more than 25 posts to date, with strong feedback from Headteachers suggesting that this has attracted a wider field of strong candidate towards vacant roles.


This project is now subject to a more thorough piece of evaluation to understand its impact more robustly. The North Yorkshire Coast Opportunity Area has so far supported its recruitment work with just under £1,000,000 over the three-year duration of the programme.



Developing Essential Life Skills


Doncaster – EXPECT Summer: providing enrichment for all young people, especially the most vulnerable

Doncaster has a higher than average number of vulnerable children, including over 500 in care. One of the Opportunity Area’s four priorities is to extend opportunities to the most vulnerable children and young people, who may not usually be able to access them. Notably, setting out to deliver a Summer Youth Engagement Programme aimed at improving learning through the holiday period and tackling holiday hunger.


Over the summers of 2018 and 2019, EXPECT Youth coordinated a holiday activity programme in 11 disadvantaged wards where at least four free activities were available each day for children and young people aged 5-18. These activities included sports camps, forensic science and virtual reality activities, anti-bullying workshops, performing arts classes and trips to local attractions.


Directed mainly through local charities, to build capacity, the Opportunity Area allocated £265,000 funding to the summer programmes and was able to engage over 8,700 children and young people and provided nearly 15,000 free healthy meals.


The programme has been widely supported locally. “It was a well coordinated programme that was straight forward for busy schools to take part in, given that it added value to the academy community. The young people who participated exhibited increased confidence and many became better engaged in education more broadly. It is difficult to quantify the impact in outcomes terms but the attitudinal shift we saw was marked.” – Carolyn Blundell, Executive Principal of OGAT.


December 2020

Specific support for vulnerable children and young people


Bradford – bringing health services and schools together, developing evidence to drive improvements

Using initial funding from the Bradford Opportunity Area, a West Yorkshire partnership has been established between the Department for Education, Bradford Institute of Health Research, the Universities of Leeds and Bradford, the Local Authority, and the Educational Endowment Foundation. The partnership established ‘The Centre for Applied Education Research’ (CAER), which brings together experts in all aspects of childhood development work to generate evidence on how education attainment and social mobility can be improved. Since its foundation, CAER has funded over 20 projects, attracted more than £2M of external funding and identified means of improving children’s physical and mental health.


The CAER team has developed new approaches to early identification of health barriers to learning, by linking health and education data at pupil and city level. In Bradford, issues such as neurodevelopmental problems, uncorrected eyesight issues and underdeveloped motor skills are addressed within school settings. These issues are known to affect behaviour, cognition, reading and writing, as well as creating challenges for teachers, schools and support services.


CAER is a vehicle that is able to match the desire of experts in Universities to work on real tangible solutions to real world issues that schools in Bradford and beyond are facing. CAER supports over 20 projects across a variety of different fields. Some of the current projects include:


Making Handwriting Shine - Handwriting is a crucial skill which both underpins and predicts u attainment from an early age. A randomised trial (EEF funded) involving 100 schools empowered teachers to use evidence-based clinical techniques for improving handwriting. The invention aims to improve KS2 results in writing and reading by at least one percentage point.


Glasses in Classes - In the UK all children should receive an eyesight test in their Reception year. This is provided by health services and results are shared with families, but not schools. In Bradford this has resulted in over 2,500 children not getting the glasses they need, which subsequently causes a negative effect on reading and general attainment levels. A randomised trial in 100 Bradford schools is providing children who fail an eye test with two pairs of glasses including one for school. Outside of this programme schools are unaware which children have failed an eye test.


Oral healthBorn in Bradford datasets demonstrate how physical health problems affect school performance. Over 700 children in Bradford have been identified who have been absent from school for 2-15 days because of tooth decay. In England, a quarter of children have experience of tooth decay by the age of five years. In Bradford, this figure rises to around 40% and for those children affected they will each have 3-4 decayed teeth on average. A programme is currently in development to improve dental education within schools by supporting schools to tackle these problems.


Early Identification of Autism - CAER used linked datasets to show that routine educational data from children’s Early Years Foundation Score Profiles (EYSFP) can be used to identify children at increased risk of autism. In academic year 18/19, a pilot project was trialled across 10 primary schools to test whether children identified via EYSFP had unrecognised neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism.


Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) - There is a strong body of evidence (including data from Born in Bradford) showing a relationship between FMS and educational attainment. FMS deficits are also a known risk factor for mental ill health. Studies have suggested that a large proportion of children are unable to perform age-appropriate FMS. Unfortunately, schools are not well equipped to identify these difficulties so CAER is creating freely available resources that will allow all primary schools to identify and support children who lack these fundamental educational behavioural building blocks.


Blackpool – Team around the School: collaborative approaches to keep young people in school

Blackpool secondary schools have historically had high numbers of excluded young people. In 2017/18 fixed-term exclusions (19.4%) were almost double the England average (10.1%) and permanent exclusions (0.6%) treble the England average (0.2%). Team around the Schooland collaborative work involving all secondary school headteachers has seen the number of permanent and fixed term exclusions halved this year. These figures factor in the closure of schools for most children since March so this is impressive progress.


‘Team around the School’, a new programme of support developed by the Blackpool Opportunity Area, funds a team of seven inclusion workers (one per secondary school) and three parental engagement workers who engage directly with the families of young people who are at risk of exclusion or substantial risk of disengagement from mainstream education. The aim is to reduce the overall number of exclusions in Blackpool secondary schools and to improve attendance in Blackpool’s secondary schools. The support on offer includes the development of family support plans, the provision of a small welfare fund, parental engagement courses and providing families with potential solutions to the other barriers to attending school.


The team have supported 202 children and young people and their families to date, and 73 students have ‘graduated’ from the support, meaning they have now completed their intervention to help increase their engagement in mainstream school. Overall, average school attendance per pupil being supported has improved by 2.2% which, equates to an average of four extra days in school per individual.


The project is supported by £800,000 of Opportunity Area funding and supported 180 students by August 2020. We expect to support approximately 123 referrals during academic year 2020-21. The project is also planning to upskill parents by partnering with organisations to provide nationally accredited courses free of charge during holiday periods.

Supporting young people into career pathways


Blackpool – business partnerships improving career outcomes for young people

In 2016, Blackpool was in the bottom 40% nationally for 16 to 17-year olds ‘Not in Education, Employment and Training’ (NEET) and ‘Destination Not Known’.


Blackpool Opportunity Area, in partnership with Lancashire LEP, Lancashire Careers Hub and the business community, has addressed this by developing the ‘Blackpool Careers Journey’. This project integrates the local activity of the Careers and Enterprise Company and the Lancashire Careers Hub (which covers Blackpool, Burnley and Pendle) and uses Opportunity Area funding to address gaps in existing support. The Opportunity Area has also invested in the ‘Blackpool Engagement Journey’, a programme targeting the most vulnerable children and young people; those least likely to access careers activity. By taking an evidence-based approach to building their self-belief, it enables them to make the most of the opportunities provided by the Blackpool Careers Journey.


The Careers and Enterprise Company reports that Blackpool’s schools and colleges have made significant progress against the Gatsby benchmarks. This strong performance has also helped Lancashire Careers Hub receive an award for Careers Hub of the Year from the Careers and Enterprise Company and Gatsby Foundation.


Blackpool Opportunity Area has committed £760,000 to projects in Blackpool in this priority area. Young people in Blackpool have already experienced over 78,000 meaningful encounters with the world of work, helping to increase their chances of gaining sustained employment in the future.


Whilst the challenge remains and work is ongoing, ‘Start Blackpool’, a customised careers advice platform, already has over 8,000 registrations from secondary schools and post-16 colleges and has been adopted and replicated in other Opportunity Areas across the country.



[1] GL Assessments is a provider of formative assessments to schools, see GL assessments provide progress tests in English, maths, science, reading and attitudes to self and school, comparing pupil’s abilities within tests against a national average for tests taken across the UK.