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.

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.

Blackpool Football Club Community Trust (BFCCT) is broadening its existing mental health, resilience and mentoring programme and extending it to every secondary school in the town working with as many pupils as need help. The Opportunity Area funding has enabled BFCCT to employ another three full time ‘high school hub officers’ – taking its team to five – to spend two days a week in all eight mainstream secondary schools in the town, deliver the Premier League Inspires programme on mental health and resilience and provide one-to-one support for the young people who need it the most. Some of the support has gone online during the national lockdown restrictions. The club acts as a single point of contact for referrals from schools, assesses each pupil’s needs and works with schools, pupils and their families to identify the most appropriate support, reviewing progress against individual goals.

The club is providing online training to two mentors at Fleetwood Town as well as sharing resources to help them identify and support around 75 pupils at Fleetwood High School.

Selina Hayes, Head of Education and Employability at Blackpool Football Club Community Trust, said:

“The High School Hub programme has been a long-term ambition of ours and it is fantastic to have been able to roll the programme out with the support of the Opportunity Area.

“Having mentors in every school allows us to provide regular support for the most vulnerable pupils, not only to achieve academically, but to become much more confident and ambitious individuals ready to progress through education and life.”

Chair of the Blackpool Opportunity Area, Graham Cowley, added:

“At a time of unprecedented challenges for our most vulnerable young people, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to support Blackpool FC Community Trust to extend their mentoring programme. The work will benefit young people along the Fylde Coast through an innovative partnership with Fleetwood Town FC, providing much needed help to resume studies.”

Opportunity Area Year 4 Announcement

In November 2019 the Government announced a one year extension to the Opportunity Area programme. In Blackpool, Year 4 will bring renewed activity to tackle deep-rooted literacy challenges which affect the school and life chances of many of the town’s children and families. We will also support the enhancement of secondary schools’ in-school practice to tackle issues affecting behaviour and attendance, and complement this with out-of-school support to children and families. We will continue to develop the Blackpool Careers and Engagement Journey, to enable more young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to gain valuable support, advice and experience to shape and realise their career ambitions.

Click below to read more about Blackpool Opportunity Area year 4 plans:

New online careers platform launched to support year 10 and 11 pupils

Teenage girl studying with video online lesson at home

An online careers package has been launched by the Blackpool Opportunity Area to support year ten and eleven pupils and provide guidance on training, further education and the world of work.

Start in Blackpool is a free digital platform designed to support each pupil’s individual career journey and prepare them for employment.

The online Blackpool Careers Journey forms part of the learning platform and is now live on the website. It offers a series of short courses for young people to boost their employability training as well as improve their skills and knowledge.

Created by careers guidance company U-Explore, the courses have been tested with professionals and pupils from Educational Diversity.

The priority in the first instance is to target vulnerable young people who are at risk of ending up not in education, employment or training (NEET).

Pupils will benefit from a wide variety of resources from education providers and be able to learn about future careers as well gaining an insight into the vast job opportunities available across the Fylde coast.

The online Blackpool Careers Journey is funded by the Blackpool Opportunity Area. Blackpool is one of 12 Opportunity Areas set up by the Department for Education to improve education standards and help every child and young person in the area to reach their full potential.

The main aim is to improve outcomes for children and young people from education through to employment.

This means that children should be well prepared to start school by the time they are aged five, be able to achieve their full potential whilst at school and college and be well-informed to make ambitious choices about their future as adults.

The Blackpool Opportunity Area has three priority areas including raising attainment in Blackpool’s schools, supporting vulnerable children to stay in education, and improving advice and support for young people when moving between schools/colleges and into work.

The programme is now in its fourth year of funding and will run until August 2021.

Mike Taplin, Blackpool Opportunity Area Delivery Lead, said:

“This new digital facility provides a fantastic opportunity for the young people in our community to access high quality careers information, advice and guidance, as they start thinking about their futures in year 11, making urgent decisions about their next steps.

“Despite the challenges that the lockdown has brought, we want to prepare year our older pupils for their next steps, whatever their ambitions.

“We want to encourage young people in Blackpool at this stage in their education to make full use of the excellent courses available to support their career journey.

“We are striving to provide young people with the opportunities to thrive and make a success of their lives which is why we are confident that Start in Blackpool will help our young people as they plan for their futures in these very challenging times.”

Matt Peters, Managing Director of U-Explore Ltd, said:

“We are delighted to add virtual learning to the successful Start in Blackpool web resource.

“We have been inundated with support from education providers, employers and other stakeholders in the town to create something truly ground-breaking.

“Employers are providing exciting virtual work experience opportunities with hands on tasks and video instruction that suits the YouTube generation and students receive certificates to help their onward progression. The platform will grow over the coming months and be something the town can be justifiably proud of.”

Cllr Kath Benson, Blackpool Council Cabinet Member for Schools, Education and Aspiration, added:

“The online Blackpool Careers Journey provides young people in Blackpool with an opportunity to learn more about employers, higher education and apprenticeships as well as businesses within the local area and to make informed decisions about their future careers.”

For more information on the Blackpool Careers Journey, visit

Children in Blackpool are going over the rainbow to improve their literacy skills

Seaside banner

Families in Blackpool are encouraged to take part in a mark-making and poetry writing competition to win an iPad Mini.

Get Blackpool Reading, the campaign from the National Literacy Trust, Blackpool Opportunity Area and Blackpool Council, has developed a literacy-based activity for children aged 7-11 to enjoy at home and as part of families’ daily outdoor exercise.

The Draw and Display tour competition is inspired by the rainbows of hope and teddy bears that have appeared in windows throughout the coronavirus outbreak.

It asks families to bring memories of the resort to life by colouring in a bespoke seaside scene and displaying them in their windows.

To take part, families can download and print the competition resource from the Get Blackpool Reading website or Facebook page and colour it in.

If families don’t have access to a printer, children are welcome to draw their own version.

Older children can take part in the competition by writing a poem inspired by the rainbows of hope and putting them up in the window for their neighbours to see.


Parents are asked to take a photo or scan in their children’s entries and share it on social media using the hashtag #GetBlackpoolReading or email with their name and age before the closing date of Friday 17 July 2020.

All entrants will be submitted to a prize draw to win an iPad Mini. There will also be prizes for participants that spots the highest number of seaside scenes or poems in windows around their local area while exercising once a day.

Laura Flinn, Get Blackpool Reading Campaign Manager, said: “Although times are strange for families in Blackpool right now, we hope the Draw and Display tour will bring hope and happiness to parents and children in lockdown.

“Research tells us that there are literacy benefits to both mark-making and writing poetry as it encourages your child to be creative, share ideas and express their thoughts and feelings.

“We hope as many local families as possible are inspired to take part – especially with such a brilliant prize to be won!”

Chairman of the Blackpool Opportunity Area partnership board, Graham Cowley, said: “Blackpool Opportunity Area is proud to support Get Blackpool Reading, a great campaign reminding us all of the benefits of regular reading. The campaign’s Draw and Display tour competition can remind us all of happier days during this difficult time.

“We are committed to improving literacy levels in Blackpool and encouraging children to read for pleasure forms a huge part of this.”

Find out more

For more information on Get Blackpool Reading, visit or

Update – Get Blackpool Reading campaign

Get Bpool Reading logoIn response to the progression of covid-19, changes have had to be made to the Get Blackpool Reading campaign.

The community-driven campaign led by the National Literacy Trust in partnership with Blackpool Council and the Blackpool Opportunity Area officially launched in February. It set out to work with local partners, schools and businesses to promote reading for pleasure among children and families and give them the literacy skills they need to succeed in life.

The National Literacy Trust has now set up a Facebook page to provide support and tips to families who are home-schooling as well as raising awareness of campaign and project activity.

The charity has also established a Family Zone This is a one-stop shop of resources to help families with home-schooling.

New campaign activities

100 Reads

Get Blackpool Reading’s 100 Reads asks children and residents across the town to nominate their top three kids’ books for a list to inspire children to read more widely.

Families can visit the Get Blackpool Reading website while self-isolating, where they’ll find tips on thinking about their favourite stories and the submission form.

The three Blackpool schools that submit the highest number of entries will win books for their school. There will also be a prize draw in which one lucky winner will scoop entry to the circus at Blackpool Tower for a family of four to use once it reopens.

Big Book Giveaway

The Big Book Giveaway asked families to download or collect an activity sheet from locations across Blackpool, complete it and exchange it at any Blackpool Library for a free book to keep.

As libraries are now closed, we are now encouraging families to download the leaflet. Visit the website, download and complete the Big Book Giveaway resource. Send a photo to and you’ll receive a token to collect your free book when libraries reopen!

Make-your-own Bear Hunt

Get Blackpool Reading has developed a make-your-own Bear Hunt activity, inspired by the popular children’s story We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen. Download the checklist, follow the steps and you could win copies of the book and a DVD, thanks to Walker Books. There’s also a family ticket to Blackpool Zoo up for grabs to be redeemed by March 2021. Visit to find out more.

Thank you

We’d like to thank all our Get Blackpool Reading partners for all their commitment to the campaign so far especially during these unprecedented times. Your support will help us continue to improve literacy levels across the town and encourage families to read for pleasure while they’re at home together.

Secretary of State for Education visits the Blackpool Opportunity Area

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  • Education Secretary visits St George’s School, A Church of England Academy and Blackpool and The Fylde College
  • Secretary of State meets school and college leaders to discuss the key challenges in the area
  • Over £7m is currently being invested in Blackpool as part of the Opportunities Area programme to support vulnerable children and young families and funding for Essential Life Skills and early speech and language.  

The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has today (Thursday 5 March) visited Blackpool to learn more about the work that the Opportunity Area programme is doing to level up opportunities for children and young people in the town.

The Secretary of State began by visiting St George’s School Blackpool who are working with the Opportunity Area programme across a wide range of projects that are providing extra support for early and mid-career teachers, embedding the teaching of literacy across the curriculum and to support the most vulnerable pupils, with a range of needs from speech language and communication to emotional and mental wellbeing.

He then followed this by visiting Blackpool and The Fylde College, who are a key partner along with St Georges School in the delivery of the Blackpool Careers Journey – a joined up offer of support for all children and young people in the town to help them prepare for work.

Over £7m is being currently invested in Blackpool as part of the Opportunity Area programme and for Essential Life Skills and early speech and language.  The programme is working in three priority areas of raising attainment and progress in Blackpool schools, providing support for vulnerable young people and families to improve attendance and reduce exclusions from school and improving advice and support for young people when moving between schools/colleges and into work.

Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, said: “It was fantastic to get back to Blackpool today to see how we are raising the bar for young people living here, by investing in excellent teachers and improving education standards in key skills like literacy.

“Every child, in every part of the country, should have a fair chance – that’s why we are levelling up funding to make sure all schools can deliver a high quality education.

“We have also have recently announced an extra £18 million to extend the Opportunity Area programme, helping to cement the great work already being done to help Blackpool’s young people reach their full potential.”

Chair of the Blackpool Opportunity Area Partnership Board, Graham Cowley, said: “Blackpool welcomes the visit by the SoS to review our Opportunity Area activities.  All our partner organisations are proud to be collaborating to improve life chances for all our young people, supporting them to access the world of work and to thrive within it.

“Continuing Government support for the Opportunity Area programme inspires confidence in partners to continue to drive towards longer-term aspirations for our community.”

Graham Warnock, Headteacher at St George’s, said: “The staff at St George’s love working in the Academy.  Our high expectations and approach to discipline has created a calm, harmonious and purposeful environment where young people thrive socially and fulfil their academic potential.

“We have seen the difference caring discipline makes and I was pleased with the Government’s behaviour hub initiative announced earlier this week. It was fantastic for the Secretary of State to have the opportunity to visit this wonderful Academy and see first hand the transformation this approach is having at St George’s and the positive benefits and outcomes for our pupils”

Bev Robinson OBE, Principal and Chief Executive of Blackpool and The Fylde College, said: “Fundamental to the levelling up agenda, is the investment in technical and professional education and training aligned to the needs of the economy.

“Blackpool and The Fylde College is recognised as a leading provider in this space, working with employer partners to co-create learning opportunities leading to sustainable, vibrant careers. We welcomed the opportunity to demonstrate outstanding technical and professional education in practice to the Secretary of State and for students to share their success stories with him.”

The programme has been operating in 12 Opportunity Areas across the country – Blackpool, Derby, Norwich, Oldham, North Yorkshire Coast, West Somerset, Bradford, Doncaster, Fenland and East Cambridgeshire, Hastings, Ipswich and Stoke-on-Trent.

Areas were chosen because they face some of the most entrenched obstacles to social mobility and were set up to improve outcomes and increase opportunities for all young people in these areas.

Across all the Opportunity Areas around 60,000 young people have also been given the chance to develop life skills like resilience, teamwork, problem-solving, confidence and leadership thanks to a share of the £22 million Essential Life Skills programme.

Pupils explore their next steps at careers fair

006 Jodie (L) and Millie (R) at the careers fair

Hundreds of pupils from schools across Blackpool attended a two-day careers fair held at the Pleasure Beach last week.

Students were able to pick up information from a broad range of industry areas, including the next steps they would need to take after their studies.

Organised by Blackpool Community Guidance, the year 8 and 9 pupils also had access to training providers, and representatives from colleges, universities and professional bodies to discuss their different career options. Exhibitors included Blackpool Pleasure Beach, British Aerospace, Marine Engineering, Sainsbury’s, Lancaster University and Teacher Training.

The annual ‘Our Future, Our Choice’ event aims to ensure that young people understand the link between success in school and their future career.

Sponsored by the Blackpool Opportunity Area, Blackpool Sixth Form, Blackpool and The Fylde College and Education Business Partnership (NW), the guidance event is now in its twelfth year of helping students understand more about their career options and what they need to achieve their goals.

David Brennand, who helped to organise the event, said: “This event is designed to inspire and aspire young people and help them make positive decisions about their futures.

“It is a great way to make the link between the curriculum and the careers for the future and to give so many pupils a chance to talk to inspiring industry experts which will help them prepare for their next steps.

“I would like to thank all the businesses and sponsors for getting involved and hope that this event can continue for many years to come.”

With access to interactive stations across three floors of the Pleasure Beach, the students were able to get hands on experience from many of the different industry sectors.

Jodie, 12, from Highfield Leadership Academy, said: “It is worthwhile being here as it can help you to pick your career. There’s lots of different stands and the people are really helpful. I think that I want to be a detective within the police but I am open to other things.”

Millie, also 12 from Highfield, said: “I am into hairdressing and this is what I’d like to do in the future. I went to the hair and beauty stand and was able to practice on a doll’s head.”

Robert Owen, Director of Marketing, Sales and PR at the Pleasure Beach, said: “We are very proud to have hosted this event for so many years. It’s great that we can use our venue to help local year 8 and 9 students start to think about their career options.”

Cllr Kath Benson, Blackpool Council Cabinet Member for Schools, Education and Aspiration, said: “This inspiring event provides a fantastic opportunity for the young people in our community to access high quality careers information, advice and guidance, as they start thinking about their futures.

“There are a huge range of opportunities available to them, and it’s essential that we continue to help them aspire to dream big and then work with them to help them reach their goals.

“Events like these give young people in Blackpool a chance to learn about employers, higher education and apprenticeships, and businesses within the local area and to make informed decisions about their future careers.”

New literacy campaign is on the hunt for the town’s top 100 kids’ books

100 Reads

Get Blackpool Reading from the National Literacy Trust, Blackpool Council and Blackpool Opportunity Area, is collating a list of Blackpool’s favourite children’s stories to encourage reading for pleasure across the town.

Pupils at all 33 primary schools in Blackpool are being asked to nominate their favourite children’s book as part of an initiative from Get Blackpool Reading – a new literacy-focused campaign launching on 25 February.

Blackpool’s 100 Reads is a town-wide activity to motivate more children to enjoy reading and read more widely, by inspiring them to try books that have been recommended by their peers.

Each primary school in Blackpool will receive a pack including teacher top tips to promote the 100 Reads activity in the classroom and a set of postcards where pupils can submit their top three favourite books for the list. The three Blackpool schools that submit the highest number of suggestions will each receive 100 new books each.

Local residents are also invited to share their favourite children’s book through a submission form on the Get Blackpool Reading website, using #GetBlackpoolReading on social media or emailing by the deadline of Friday 6 March.

Get Blackpool Reading is a new community-driven campaign led by the National Literacy Trust in partnership with Blackpool Council and the Blackpool Opportunity Area. Officially launching at the end of February, the campaign will work with local partners, schools and businesses to promote reading for pleasure among children and families and give them the literacy skills they need to succeed in life.

It comes as more than half (58%) of disadvantaged 11-year-olds in Blackpool left primary school unable to read well. Just 48% of pupils achieved a grade C or above in both English and maths at GCSE in 2018, compared to the national average of 63%.

The printed Blackpool 100 Reads list will be found in libraries across the town later in the spring in the form of a bespoke height chart. A downloadable version will be available at

Paul McNally, Get Blackpool Reading’s Campaign Manager, said: “Creating a list of Blackpool’s top 100 Reads will not only inspire hundreds of local children and families to discover new books, but also create a buzz around the new Get Blackpool Reading campaign and the exciting literacy-focused activities to come. We know that when children choose books to read outside the classroom for just 10 minutes every day, their mental wellbeing improves and they achieve more at school.”

Mark Rayner, Blackpool Opportunity Area Delivery Lead, said: “We are thrilled to be working with the National Literacy Trust as part of the Get Blackpool Reading 100 Reads initiative. Being able to read and communicate well are essential ingredients to doing well in school and preparing for the world of work, and creating a fun and inspiring list will take us one step closer to that goal. We’re looking forward to finding out which stories will be included.”

Cllr Kath Benson, Blackpool Council Cabinet Member for Schools, Education and Aspiration, said: “We welcome any scheme that brings families together and develops a shared love of reading. Ensuring children read, write and count well early is key to their success at school and in life. That’s why it’s really important that we ask families to get involved in this campaign to help instil a love of books from a young age.

“This campaign will help everybody to get in to reading, which is a really important skill, and develop the literacy skills that children need to succeed.”

To find out more about the Get Blackpool Reading campaign, please visit

Students win work experience of a lifetime

Photo of work experience winners

There can be few better entries in a fashion journalist’s CV than working on Elle UK.

Yet that’s exactly what’s in store for three Blackpool and The Fylde College students after they won a competition to shadow the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Farrah Storr, at the magazine’s London headquarters.

Farrah was hosting a series of presentations at the Park Road campus when she revealed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

English students Rebecca Gilder and Amy Steel, and Fashion Design’s Josh Harris, won the chance to learn all about fashion journalism at Elle UK’s Canary Wharf offices after completing writing assignments about modern fashion and culture.

Farrah set the challenge while visiting B&FC as part of nationwide research by the Social Mobility Commission into 21st century challenges facing young people.

Cllr Kath Benson, Blackpool Council Cabinet Member for Schools, Education and Aspiration, said: “We’re determined to give the best possible education to every single child, no matter what their background, needs or issues.

“Work experience is a vital part of that as it can play an important role in career development as well as provide students with an opportunity to learn transferable skills, build confidence and use academic learning in the workplace.

“Having the chance to put their existing skills into practice alongside developing and enhancing new ones is invaluable.

“I am sure that Josh, Rebecca and Amy will make the most of the opportunity and see the value and satisfaction that you can get out of work.”