Implementation of Opportunity Areas: An independent evaluation

Claire Easton, Tamaris McCrone, Robert Smith, Jennie Harland and David Sims

17 October 2018

Research report on the DfE website

The DfE commissioned NFER to independently evaluate the implementation of the Opportunity Areas (OAs) programme. The OA programme forms part of the government’s approach to increasing social mobility by targeting £72m at 12 areas identified as being social mobility ‘cold spots’. The three-year programme seeks to improve entrenched and widespread social, economic and cultural challenges facing children and young people in these areas across England.

We interviewed DfE local delivery teams and local stakeholders across the 12 areas between January 2017 and June 2018.

Key Findings

  • Local stakeholders, working alongside DfE teams, were passionate and committed to increasing their local young people’s social mobility and were keen to maintain the initial progress made in improving their outcomes. Partnership boards were committed to ensuring the programme has a ‘lasting legacy’ within local areas.
  • The programme helped to foster and promote collaboration in a number of ways, including closer working with DfE and by engaging with a cross-sector of local stakeholders from early years, schools, businesses, charities and others.
  • Within each OA, initial processes and systems helped to define clear areas of need and how these will be addressed (see OA delivery plans).
  • Stakeholders were keen to measure short-term changes but recognised that improving social mobility would take longer than the three years of funding.
  • Our evidence suggested several areas for improvement to the programme, including further enhancing engagement with communities, families and young people; considering extending the duration of the programme; and promoting greater sharing of learning, information and resources between OAs.