1 July – Join us for our Opportunity Area Celebration Event at the Catalyst Building, Staffs University

We are delighted to announce that we are hosting a celebration event showcasing the work of Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area. Sharing learning, developing networks, and informing next steps for education improvement across our city are our key messages for the day. Featuring a range of project-led workshops from Early Years to Post-16 alongside community-based initiatives such as Football Mentoring with the Port Vale Foundation and Stoke City FC, there really is something for everyone.

Keynote speakers include our co-chairs Carol Shanahan and Liz Barnes, Marc Rowland, and representatives from Stoke-on-Trent City Council, the DfE Regional Schools’ Commissioner’s Office and members of the Education Challenge Board. We’ll be reflecting on the impact of the Opportunity Area programme and looking to what’s next for the children and young people of Stoke-on-Trent.

Programme for the day:

Invitations have been sent to all PVIs, nursery settings, schools and colleges across Stoke-on-Trent. To book your place, please return by 27 May 2022 to SoT.OA@education.gov.uk. For full details of all the exciting workshops on offer, please click below for a copy of the invitation: Book your place quickly, spaces are filling up!

Strength through Partnership: A Celebration of the Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area 2018-2022

It was four weeks ago today that we all came together to celebrate the amazing work of the Opportunity Area. We are delighted to share with you the celebration booklet that reflects on the achievements over the programme’s life-span. Take a look to find out about all the incredible work the projects have delivered in Stoke-on-Trent between 2018-2022.


Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area has funded a second year of the successful football mentoring project at the Port Vale Foundation, working with local secondary schools to offer support to pupils. Watch this amazing video to find out more about the project and meet Callum, who after having been through the mentoring programme himself, is now a regular volunteer at the Foundation.

Half-time reflections at the scfc community trust

At the half-way mark of the academic year, SCFC Community Trust took some time to reflect on the successful football mentoring project ‘RISE’ with two participating schools – Haywood Academy and St Margaret Ward. The project, which is funded by Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area, helps secondary pupils to re-engage with their learning. Click on the link below for an inspiring film showing the great work underway at the SCFC Community Trust.


Sharing Learning: Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form & Stoke College’s Emotional Wellbeing Service features in DfE Insight Guide

We are absolutely delighted to share with you the DfE’s latest Opportunity Areas Insight Guide, with the theme of Health and Education. This is the third in a thematic series of national publications showcasing projects from across the Opportunity Area programme.

The Health and Education Insight Guide features our very own Emotional Wellbeing Service project which ran across Stoke Sixth Form and Stoke College. The project has supported students at both colleges by providing early intervention support for those experiencing mental health and emotional wellbeing issues. Further funding for the project has been agreed for the 2021/22 academic year which will see the service expand to include school sixth forms and training providers.

The aim of the insight guides is to share learning from the place-based approaches projects have taken, providing further information to schools and communities to overcome similar challenges elsewhere.

Read more about the project : Opportunity Areas Insight Guide – Health and Education (publishing.service.gov.uk)

National award for Stoke mental health project

National recognition for Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form to improve mental health

A mental health and wellbeing project to support sixth form and college students in Stoke-on-Trent has been recognised with a national award.

Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College and Stoke-on-Trent College identified a gap in early intervention support for students and created an Emotional Wellbeing Service with £120,000 funding from the Opportunity Area programme.

The project beat off national competition to win the Sixth Form College Association’s 2021 Award in the Mental Health and Wellbeing Category on Wednesday (16 June 2021).

Michelle Donelan, Minister for the Opportunity Areas, said: “I am proud that this important project in Stoke-on-Trent is being recognised, and I hope that its success continues as we expand our Opportunity Area programme into a fifth year, with early intervention for even more students so they stay engaged in their education and thrive.

“We know that wellbeing and academic success often go hand in hand which is why innovative projects like this are vital as we build back better from the pandemic.”

Both colleges found that high numbers of students were presenting to counselling service and safeguarding teams and they wanted to step in with support earlier for issues such as low self-esteem, motivation, healthy relationships and trauma.

The project has helped to fund Emotional Wellbeing Workers to carry out initial assessments, identify goals and empower students with strategies such as mindfulness.

They also deliver drop-in sessions, one-to-one intervention and facilitate peer support groups such as the ‘Female Empower Hour’ to build self-esteem, so that students can access support appropriate to their needs including help dealing with any issues that arose from the pandemic.

There was high demand from students for the drop-in sessions; during the Autumn 2020 term, the service was used 86 times across the two colleges.

Project lead Joanna Finn, from Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College, said: “A student may be having a bad day, experiencing a low mood, with low levels of motivation. They visit the drop-in service, speak to an Emotional Wellbeing Worker and leave feeling better for having spoken to someone. 

“This could be a 10-minute intervention and that student is not seen within the service again. It is this early engagement and offer of support which has made a real difference to student wellbeing.”

It also helps them to stay engaged in their studies so they can reach their potential and gain the skills they need to get the jobs they want. By the end of the academic year, data showed a significant decrease in the number of counselling referrals.

Co-Chair of Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Areas, Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL said: “At a time when young people are facing major challenges it is crucial that they are able to access the support that they need to manage their mental health. It is fantastic to see how the OA has been able to contribute to the implementation of this great initiative in Stoke VI form College that has been so well received by their students. Well done to the team”

Further funding for this project has been approved for Year 5 of the Opportunity Area programme, extending its reach beyond the two colleges within the city to include sixth forms within schools and training providers.

Further information:

  • The ‘Joint Strategic Needs Assessment’ (JSNA) report published in April 2017 found that young people living with mental health conditions are less likely to reach their full academic potential, are more likely to drop out of education, employment or training, and are more likely to become known to the youth justice system.
  • Both colleges adopted the THRIVE Framework for system change, which is an integrated, person-centred and needs-led approach to delivering mental health services for children, young people and their families.
  • By the end of the academic year, data showed a significant decrease in the number of counselling referrals. Across both colleges, there were 193 referrals to counselling reported for the 2019/20 academic year compared to 495 during 2018/19.
  • Missed initial appointments also decreased over the course of the project.
  • There was a continued 30% of safeguarding referrals, several were identified via Emotional Wellbeing or Counselling.
  • At the close of the project in December 2020, counselling referrals were much lower across the two colleges.
  • Students’ Core Scores, indicating their level of psychological distress, had decreased by 9.75 points, indicating a positive improvement in their mental health and wellbeing.
  • Data was collated throughout the project to assess the number of students accessing one-to-one interventions and drop-in sessions. There were 436 interventions with students across the two colleges over the course of the project.
 1:1 interventionDrop-in
Stoke College9577
Sixth Form99165
  • The project lead also noted further positive impacts from the project;
    • the impact the Emotional Wellbeing Service has had on staff and students in creating a supportive, open environment for mental health and wellbeing to be discussed,
    • the peer support groups that have been established for students, and
    • the space for students to observe and manage their own self-care.

A Fifth Year Of Dfe Funding For Stoke-On-Trent Opportunity Area

Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area has been awarded a further £1.39m to help children and young people’s learning and development in the wake of the pandemic.

The funding boost, announced today by the Department for Education, is part of 18m funding to extend the work of the Opportunity Area for a fifth consecutive year and will focus on getting young children ‘school ready’, improving results in English, Maths and Science and catch up on lost learning during the 2021/22 academic year.

Another priority is reducing the number of young people not in education, employment or training and addressing their social, emotional and mental health needs.

Ensuring every child has access to the high-quality education and support they deserve is a key part of the government’s levelling up agenda. The Prime Minister has today set out his renewed commitment to ensuring opportunity is spread equally throughout the country and has endorsed the Opportunity Areas programme as a key part of this.

Opportunity Areas Minister Michelle Donelan said:

“Opportunity Areas have been making a real difference in levelling up the outcomes for children and young people in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country, from early years into employment. We have seen this difference in the rising standards in key subjects like maths and phonics, in how the targeted support available is boosting young people’s confidence to succeed and in how each area was able to adapt to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I have seen first-hand how the dedication and commitment of people on the ground in these areas is driving school improvement and removing the barriers to success.  This funding will enable them to continue this important work, help sustain long-term improvements and outcomes, support even more children and young people, and level up standards across England.”

Welcoming the additional funding, Opportunity Area Co-Chair Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL said: “This has been an incredibly disruptive year for children and young people and their learning and development. We know that areas like Stoke-on-Trent have been hit hardest.”

“This additional funding will address a number of issues experienced as a result of the pandemic, ranging  from support for children needing speech therapy,  “catch up” activity for pupils who have missed out on their learning, and support for young people who are struggling with their mental health.”

English, Maths and Science initiatives delivered through: the English Excellence Partnership, Maths Excellence Partnerships, and Science Across the City, will benefit from additional funding which will be used to support transition to secondary schools and address “learning loss” suffered through the pandemic.

Targeted maths support will be made available to primary schools most in need and lead science teachers will be developed to build capacity in the subject and help embed science learning communities.

Councillor Janine Bridges, cabinet member for the economy and education at Stoke-on-Trent City Council said: “I welcome an extension as the Opportunity Area programme provides a real opportunity to make a difference to the lives of children and young people. In recent years we have made a strong investment in education and there has been a drive across the city to improve the number of good and outstanding schools, this is something we are passionate about and hope to continue.”

Further support will target 16 – 19 year olds, part of which will allow them to catch up following the pandemic and provide employability support and opportunities, in a bid to reduce the numbers of young people not in education employment or training.

At the same time OA funding will be used to create a network of trained Emotional Wellbeing Advisers to work in sixth forms and colleges and offer early intervention mental health support for Year 10’s and 11’s whose transition has been impacted by COVID-19.

The Football Mentoring Project launched earlier this year also receives a boost. Through the scheme, young people hit hardest by the pandemic are being offered mental health and wellbeing support by Stoke City FC, Port Vale FC and Staffordshire University to help them stay engaged in education so they can catch up on lost learning and raise their aspirations.

Potterbot (or not) – in celebration of science

Pupils tasked with making a Potterbot (or not) in celebration of science

Schoolchildren across Stoke-on-Trent are being tasked with the design and construction of an innovative machine as part of British Science Week.

The initiative, which involves the distribution of 2,000 Potterbot kits to 70 schools across the City, is being coordinated by Science Across the City with funding support from Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area.

British Science Week is a celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths that takes place between March 5 – 14, coinciding with the return to school of thousands of pupils across the City.

Tina Whittaker from Science Across the City, explained: “The activity is designed for years 5 – 8 to make them feel excited about science and our fast-changing world. We’ve chosen learning machines as the theme as they effect all our lives now and in the future.

“We want young people thinking about things like Alexa and Netflix serving up personal recommendations based on our likes and whether learning machines could have helped even more throughout the pandemic, maybe a future of self-drive ambulances taking people to hospital and reducing transmission risk? Whilst many people might think of a stereotypical robot, learning machines don’t have to have arms, legs and a head.”

The challenge part of the activity encourages children to create a product that uses a learning machine using either recyclable household items or supplied ‘Potterbot’ kits and uploading images of their finished creations to a central website where it will form part of a city-wide digital mosaic.

Pupils, their teachers and parents are also encouraged to share images of their constructions on social media using the hashtags #Potterbotornot and #bsw21.

Tina added: “We had a great response from schools signing up because they want some joy during lockdown and my advice to schools is that this makes a fantastic celebratory way to return to the classroom.”

“What we want everybody to feel is that they’re part of a something bigger – a collective classroom that spans our City – and it would be wonderful to get Stoke-on-Trent school pupils trending with their fantastic creations during British Science Week.”

Following on from British Science Week, schools are being asked to return the Potterbot kits which can be gifted to local families through Foodbanks as part of the Great Science Share for Schools which will be happening in June.

Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL, co-chair of Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area, said: “Supporting young people to develop skills in science, technology, engineering and maths will help them unlock diverse and rewarding careers and play a crucial role in our future economic success.

“This fun project gives our young people a platform to showcase these skills, as well as their creativity and imagination to find innovative solutions for the challenges of today and into the future as we build back better from the pandemic.”

City Football clubs to mentor pupils hit hardest by pandemic

Young people hit hardest by the pandemic are being offered mental health and wellbeing support by Stoke City FC, Port Vale FC and Staffordshire University to help them stay engaged in education so they can catch up on lost learning and raise their aspirations.

Through the Government’s Opportunity Areas programme, Stoke City, Port Vale and Blackpool Football Clubs are working with pupils aged 11 to 19 who are disadvantaged, vulnerable or at risk of falling out of education, employment or training.

These schemes will give young people a way to talk through their anxieties and fears with trained mentors in one-to-one sessions at school and college, or online during the period of national restrictions, as part of the support on offer. They will help them find ways to overcome any obstacles, build their confidence and resilience so they are ready to learn and do not fall behind. Many of these pupils are vulnerable and can still attend school along with key worker children.

Funded by Stoke-on-Trent and Blackpool Opportunity Areas, the pastoral support is being delivered through the football club’s community teams, building on their existing outreach work which has made them a recognised brand in their community. Each football club is working with another in a different area to set up similar mentoring schemes and help even more young people.

Staffordshire University is also involved in the initiative and has trained 50 student mentors to work with 100 pupils across five Stoke-on-Trent high schools. The six-week programme will launch when lockdown lifts.  

Minister for the Opportunity Areas Michelle Donelan said: “Our focus throughout the pandemic has been to protect the most vulnerable in our society, creating new opportunities that secure their future success in spite of the challenges we face as a country.

“It is fantastic to see investment from our Opportunity Areas programme benefitting these schemes in Stoke-on-Trent and Blackpool, supporting young people’s mental health and wellbeing so they are ready to catch up on lost learning and do not fall behind.

“By sharing their resources and expertise with clubs in Fleetwood, Rotherham and Lincoln, even more secondary pupils can build life skills like confidence and resilience to tackle obstacles and thrive.”

During the period of national restrictions, mentoring is happening face-to-face or online, ensuring the most vulnerable continue to get the support they need whether learning at home or school.

Stoke City FC is helping up to 25 secondary pupils with emotional and mental health support so they are ready to catch up on time out of the classroom and do not fall behind in their education. Each referred pupil has twice weekly sessions with a mentor either remotely or face-to-face to identify and address key areas of concern and build resilience. The club is working with Rotherham United FC to set up a mentoring scheme to support around 10 pupils.

Adrian Hurst, Head of Community at Stoke City Football Club Community Trust, said:

“We are delighted to offer this project to support young people in Stoke-on-Trent. During the current restrictions, we are able to provide emotional well-being and practical support to young people whose education has been impacted by the pandemic.”

Meanwhile Port Vale’s mentoring co-ordinator will assess provision across the city to identify key gaps and establish a mentoring network to support young people and their families who have been impacted by the pandemic. The club is also working with nine secondary schools to offer support to around 124 pupils, helping them overcome challenges so they stay engaged with their learning, avoid criminal exploitation, raise their aspirations, and take advantage of career opportunities. Port Vale is now working with Lincoln City to share resources and identify pupils in two secondary schools that need extra support.

Steve Cato, Project Co-ordinator for Port Vale Foundation Trust, said:

“The mentoring programme is a huge growth area for the foundation and will enable us to fulfil our community club ambitions. Stoke-on-Trent has a high need for a project like this, supporting young people who need it most.

“Along with our network of partner agencies, we will provide structured, safe and progressive mentoring for young people in our city.”

 It follows confirmation of funding allocations for the fourth year of the Opportunity Areas programme last July, including a share of £1 million specifically to support ‘twinning’ work and expand the programme’s reach. Stoke-on-Trent and Blackpool Opportunity Areas have each invested £100,000 into these football club projects.

Co-Chair of Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area and Staffordshire University Vice-Chancellor Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL added:

 “This is a hugely worthwhile project led by our local football clubs and our University is playing its part through 50 trained student mentors who will mentoring 100 pupils across five local high schools.”

“These are especially difficult times for young people and we really hope that this structured contact from trained student mentors will help them to catch up on lost learning, build confidence and self-worth and support them to overcome the challenges they face.”