Opportunity areas could face 'unrealistic expectations', warns DfE research

The ambitions of a government scheme to help pupils in disadvantaged areas may be set too high, according to a Department for Education study

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The risk that a flagship government scheme to increase social mobility could face "unrealistic expectations" has been raised in research carried out for the Department for Education.

The research looked at early plans to create 12 "opportunity areas", which are aimed at improving schools and supporting teachers in disadvantaged parts of the country.

The £72 million scheme was announced with fanfare by education secretary Justine Greening last year as a way of boosting "social mobility cold spots".

According to a summary of a research paper, published today, a key risk attached to the programme is "unrealistic expectations".

'Expectations may be too high'

The research involved an analysis of the early implementation plans produced by each opportunity area, as well as consultations with DfE analysts and policymakers, and a literature review.

The summary states: "There is a danger that expectations of programme impact may be set too high."

It adds: "Given the diverse and overlapping nature of the interventions, it is unlikely that any impact against the headline indicators at local area level will be detected by 2020."

Therefore, it says: "It might be necessary to set a longer time horizon to allow sufficient headline outcomes to materialise."

The research also finds that clarity will be needed on the most consistent measures for judging the project's success in individual areas.

The document says: "Within the opportunity area programme there is a danger of introducing a disconnect between what local programmes are seeking to achieve and how they will ultimately be assessed by the end of the evaluation."

The findings will feed into the way the programme is evaluated, the paper states.

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