What is the Hastings Opportunity Area and how is it helping our schoolchildren?

A new drive to boost literacy rates in Hastings is being launched to encourage parents to share stories with their children, cutting the numbers who are leaving school unable to read properly.

Wednesday, 17th October 2018, 12:34 pm
Updated Wednesday, 17th October 2018, 1:35 pm
Young Readers Hereford Picture for Citypress taken at Old Market Hereford Local schools visiting Old Market Hereford as part of a joint iniiiitiative between British Land and the National Literacy Trust. Pictured, Harvey Watkins and Bonnie Locke (both 7) SUS-181016-113826001

The National Literacy Trust will launch a campaign to bring partners together from all over Hastings, helping to recruit and train at least 30 ‘literacy champions’ to run their own projects aimed at raising awareness of the importance of good reading, writing and communication skills.

The new hub, worth £125,000 a year, marks the early successes of the Hastings Opportunity Area programme.

Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “The Opportunity Area programme is truly unique – it’s led and driven by the people who know the area best, and understand what motivates and influences their young people. In my visits to many of these Opportunity Areas I’ve seen for myself the passion and commitment of those involved, who are tackling deep-rooted issues like low school attendance, poor mental health or low confidence with reading and writing. All of these things hold people back from fulfilling their potential.


“This is just the beginning, and a chance to reflect on what we are doing to foster ambition in young people in these areas. Focusing on projects where we can make the greatest difference, our Opportunity Areas will help raise the aspirations and opportunities for children and young people in Hastings.”

An independent report published by the National Foundation for Education Research has found significant progress has already been made and the programme is ‘starting to develop a lasting legacy’ of positive collaboration.

Hastings’ new literacy hub builds on the Education Secretary Damian Hinds’ pledge to halve the number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds who leave reception without the reading skills they need to thrive at school.

The Opportunity Areas programme, backed by investment worth £72 million, is just one of the ways this Government is striving to provide world-class education, training and care for everyone, no matter their background or where they live. Each of the 12 areas, located all over England, were identified as ‘coldspots’ for social mobility.

**Permissions in Place** 2016 Literacy Trust Eden Walk children reading skills opportunities volunteering community SUS-181016-113837001

Since the programme launched, independent boards made up of headteachers, businesses, charities and other local organisations have been working together to break down the barriers that prevent children and young people from achieving their potential.

An independent report published by the National Foundation for Education Research this week (October 16) to mark the anniversary has found significant progress has already been made and the programme is ‘starting to develop a lasting legacy’ of positive collaboration.

Minister Zahawi held an event in the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday, October 16 with MPs, chairmen of the independent Opportunity Area partnership boards and key local partners from each of the 12 areas to celebrate the progress made so far and announce new projects in each area.


**Permissions in Place** 2016 Literacy Trust Surrey Quays children reading skills opportunities volunteering community SUS-181016-113848001

In 2016, Hastings was ranked 282 out of 324 on the Social Mobility Index, which compares the chances that a child from a disadvantaged background will succeed in education and work.

As part of a nationwide drive to improve areas facing similar challenges, the Department of Education invested up to £6 million to set up the Hastings Opportunity Area (HOA) – a three-year programme tasked with identifying and improving the key areas of need.


The HOA focuses on a number of key areas around education.

**Permissions in Place** 2016 Literacy Trust Eden Walk children reading skills opportunities volunteering community SUS-181016-113804001

• Maths: In 2016 only 59 per cent of primary leavers reached the expected standard – 10 per cent behind the national average – and all secondary schools made less progress than the national standard.

• Literacy: Primary school pupils make less progress than their peers across England. In 2016 the percentage of those meeting the expected standard in reading at KS2 was 57 per cent compared to the national average of 66 per cent, with only 65 per cent of secondary students achieving Grade C GCSE or above, compared to 75 per cent nationally.

• Mental Health: Hastings has high rates for the incidence of depression and prevalence of severe mental illness; emergency admissions due to mental health or self-harm; and working age people claiming Employment Support Allowance due to mental health problems.

• Broadening Horizons: Many young people are not participating in extra curricular activities, and aren’t experiencing meaningful encounters with the world of work.

• Attendance: In 2017, Hastings had the highest level of overall primary pupil absence among Local Authority Districts.

• Teaching: Recruiting the best talent in teaching, and then retaining staff who would otherwise move elsewhere is proving a key challenge.

Over the past 12 months, the programme has been working with dozens of existing services, schools, community groups, businesses, parents and young people to set up initiatives to drive improvements. Six key priority areas were identified.

Richard Meddings, chairman of the HOA Board, said: “While clearly Hastings is facing severe challenges, particularly for those children from disadvantaged backgrounds, we now have a unique opportunity to turn these fortunes around.

“The town has extraordinary schools, colleges, teachers and a network of existing community services in place.

“Our ethos has been to work collaboratively with schools, local organisations and individuals to develop a unified and shared approach, so that we can move forward together and effect long-lasting change.”

The programme is currently working on over 20 projects in partnership with dozens of organisations serving all 22 schools and 12,000 children in Hastings.

By 20/21, its objective is for Hastings to be an exciting place to teach and learn with pupils in the top half for maths and literacy, mental health services de-stigmatised and embedded in all schools, attendance significantly improved and all pupils using extra curricular activities.


To improve literacy and attendance, the programme has made over £500,000 in funding available for schools and colleges to apply directly for initiatives that best solve their individual challenges.

“Nobody understand the unique challenges a school faces than the teachers and staff at each individual school and college,” Mr Meddings said.

“For this reason, we are investing in schools and colleges to drive their own initiatives for improvement and encourage them to work together to share learning and expertise”


The programme is working with nine key employers, including Marshall Tufflex, the Jerwood Gallery and Hastings Direct, as well as dozens of smaller businesses and community organisations, to provide a wide range of activities, workshops, career days and talks for young people.

Mr Meddings said: “Pupils from the independent sector and the best state schools have ample access to enriching activities that equip them with a range of life skills, as well as multiple encounters with professional industries which prepare them for the world of work.

“Hastings has a rich and diverse employment and creative sector with a multitude of inspirational organisations and individuals. It’s a key objective of ours to engage with our community, and give them the opportunity to share their knowledge, skills and experience with young people, who might not otherwise access this.”


Across primary and secondary schools, Hastings pupils are behind in maths and literacy, subjects which are critical to setting the foundation for further education and success in employment.

The HOA is funding programmes to improve and expand teaching and significantly improve results:

• Maths for Mastery: Training has begun in 11 Hastings schools to teach this in-depth, evidence-based approach to teaching maths, which teaches fewer subjects in greater depth. All schools will have access to in-depth training and development sessions.

• Literacy for three to six year olds: Teachers and teaching assistants at 14 primary schools are undergoing training and development to help support pupils early speech, language and communication skills.

• Literacy Fund: £250,000 has been made available to schools and colleges to apply for evidence-based initiatives that work best for them. Five grants have been allocated already to school initiatives for teacher training.


The HOA is working with the National Literacy Trust to set up a ‘Literacy Hub’ in Hastings, which will run in the town for at least 10 years. 

Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, said: “We will be building innovative partnerships with local businesses, health, education and cultural organisations to make literacy a priority across the town and ensure young people have the literacy skills they need to succeed.”

The National Literacy Trust will soon be launching the Hub’s first initiative – ‘Literacy Champions’ which trains local volunteers to run their own, innovative projects with children and families to encourage reading, writing and talking.

This initiative has already had a significant impact in other regions where it has been implemented.

Mr Douglas added: “We can’t wait to see the clever ideas that our volunteers come up with to champion literacy, which could include running storytelling sessions, setting up a neighbourhood book swap or working with young people to make a podcast or vlog.”


The HOA has partnered with all Hastings schools, Sussex Coast College and existing organisations to expand their mental health services to parents, children and young people. The goal is to significantly increase the number of contacts these services are able to offer, to de-stigmatise using wellbeing services and provide earlier interventions for under 14s.

• Schools and colleges in Hastings are self-assessing their approach to promoting positive mental health and will then be given support and training to improve the areas of need.

• A new team of key workers has been set up by the HOA, who will work with 12 primary and secondary schools, providing services to pupils in need of low level support. This aims to reduce and prevent problems developing in later teenage years.

• Parent Support: The existing programme ‘Open for Parents’ has been extended so that it can provide more services, directly accessible to parents in all schools.

• i-Rock Service Extended: i-Rock is an award-winning ‘one stop shop’ which offers young people aged 14 to 25 timely support around mental health issues, wellbeing, education, employment and housing.

One of the keys to its effectiveness has been that there are no referrals or appointments required and there is no minimum threshold, which means anyone can drop in at any time.

The HOA has funded i-Rock to extend its services from three to five days per week from November 2018.

The funding will not only increase the service’s capacity to be able to provide drop-in support but more importantly, will allow them to offer more initial sessions to young people, which means that someone accessing help for the first time can receive support immediately.

Viki Ashby, youth services manager, said: “Over the last two years we have identified key areas of concern, including distress related to bullying, anger issues, domestic violence, sexual violence, suicidal thoughts and fear of failure.

“Discrete brief intervention packages developed by a Clinical Psychologist will provide one to four sessions, which are aimed at reducing the need for alternative provision and to enhance the coping skills that young people have.” 

Over the two-year duration of HOA’s funding, i-Rock’s key aims are to increase the number of young people they reach to a minimum of 640 contacts per year, and to offer brief evidence-based interventions of one to four sessions to at least 50 per cent of the young people who access the service.


Many children and young people in Hastings are not accessing the wide and extensive range of activities the town has to offer, such as music, sport, arts and outdoor pursuits.

Participation in these activities is shown to develop core life skills. HOA are funding dozens of expert local community groups and organisations to provide a wide range of free activities in the most deprived areas of the town.

They are also working with local businesses to create hands on career experiences.

• Career Services: The Careers Enterprise Company are working with local businesses to provide all 5,000 secondary students with four meaningful employment encounters.

Research from the Education and Employers Taskforce shows that a young person who has four or more encounters with an employer is 86 per cent less likely to be unemployed or not in education or training.

• Community Activities: Over the summer, 12 community groups provided 22 free, weekly activity sessions for 750 young people, targeted in the areas of highest deprivation. Many more free after-school, weekend and holiday activities are due to be launched soon, with organisations including the Jerwood Gallery, Active Hastings and Culture Shift, available to thousands of children and young people over the next two years.

• School Activities: Hastings schools are receiving over £600,000 over two years to fund free extra curricular activities, with funding focused on those schools with the highest level of need.

• Careers Opportunity Day: This is a ground-breaking immersive careers day, which sees 25 local employers hosting a total of 800 year 10 and 11 students for half a day on November 26. Groups of 20 to 30 young people will each experience a hands on workshop in a professional environment, as well as seminars and one-on-ones with a range of employees, in sectors including health, music, construction, technology, engineering and film.

One of the career opportunities is being provided by police, ambulance and fire services, which will take 20 young people through an emergency response to a mock road traffic accident

After the two hour workshop, the group will then visit the various stations and have seminars and one-on-ones with the wide range of employees engaged in different jobs.

“The concept of this event” said Emile Tambeh of the HOA Broadening Horizons Team, “is to give young people a real flavour the professional world.

“Not only will the young people learn about a multitude of different careers within a sector of their choice, and gain hands on experience, but they will have meaningful encounters with people actually doing those jobs and find out how they can follow in their paths.”

Emile and his colleague Ian Gillespie have been working with local employers to help shape each experience to have maximum impact. Ian added: “We know that local businesses and professionals are keen to help young people in their community, and so by giving them the support they need, we will create an event which could take place annually, for the benefit of all Hastings young people.”

If you would like to know more about what the Hastings Opportunity Area is doing in your school, the various activities on offer, or how you can help, information is available at www.hastingsopportunityarea.co.uk.

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