West Somerset Opportunity Area (WSOA) Synthesis Report for Years 1-4

In partnership with West Somerset Opportunity Area and the Department for Education


5th December 2022

Between February and August 2022 we worked with the West Somerset Opportunity Area to synthesis existing and new data relating the progress made against objectives in West Somerset in the first four years of Opportunity Area funding. The report sheds light on the unique experience of implementing national policy in a rural, geographically isolated locality. Factors such as transport, the limited local economy and limited accessibility to post-16 settings were challenges for the West Somerset Opportunity Area team to overcome. In this context, there were positive outcomes for young people as well as schools and other services that emerged over the initial four year funding period.

Our recommendations for future work in West Somerset were

For government:

  1. Many leaders we spoke to in education settings across phases told us about difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff, and WSOA leads reported high levels of churn amongst school leaders. DfE should invest in place-based initiatives that improve the supply of teachers in rural and coastal communities, such as West Somerset.
  2. The digital divide is an important barrier in West Somerset. All young people have access to a stable internet connection and an appropriate digital device. As a result DfE should ensure that programmes such as Connect to the Classroom are monitored and adapted to meet changing needs for those young people who are most disconnected.
  3. As part of Priority Education Investment Areas, consider a ‘transition fund’ that focuses on improving young people’s transitions between different phases (e.g. school-university, college-work), helping them to move effectively from one form of support to another.


For Somerset LA:

  1. Provide strategic support to West Somerset schools and other settings that help them access additional pools of funding and/or support.
  2. Within Local Community Networks, map the services (e.g. schools, youth clubs) that young people in West Somerset are accessing both within and outside of West Somerset and use this to inform investment decisions.
  3. Invest in local infrastructure, with transport as a key priority, focussing in particular on post-16.
  4. Build on the progress of WSOA in offering non-formal education and enrichment opportunities for young people beyond schools, making the most of existing networks of youth provision, and filling gaps where needed.
  5. Ensure that consultation with young people themselves is at the heart of investment decisions.


For leaders and partners in West Somerset:


  1. Use the PEIA programme to build on West Somerset’s existing infrastructure, WSOA schemes and interventions that were disrupted by the pandemic, giving settings time to embed existing support.
  2. Encourage employers to improve work experience access by supporting travel for young people and/or providing online opportunities, while ensuring young people have a strong internet connection and suitable digital device.
  3. Consider how Theories of Change and rigorous evaluations can be built into future interventions to measure the impact of individual interventions and use long-term data on labour market outcomes (e.g. NEET figures, type of work), comparing with similar areas, to observe the effect of WSOA’s work.


For schools:

  1. Continue to improve collaboration between settings and draw on federations, MATs, the LA and other school networks to align practice where appropriate (e.g. curriculum sequencing).
  2. Improve ties between West Somerset schools and those in other parts of Somerset, particularly given many young people in West Somerset may access these institutions.