Schools continue to face attendance challenges in Summer term

Attendance figures released this week show slight increases in school absences in June, according to the DfE’s latest attendance data released earlier this week. 

Attendance in all state-funded schools was at 89.4% on the 23rd June, down from 91.5% on the 9th June.  Workforce absences also increased, with 6.5% of teachers and school leaders, and 5.5% of teaching assistants and other staff, absent on the 23rd June. This is up from 5.5% and 5% on the 9th June.

The preliminary results from the Schools North East June 2022 ‘State of the Region’ survey show a similar picture for the North East. Our ‘State of the Region’ surveys ask the same set of core questions every term (as well as additional questions where relevant) to get a snapshot across an academic year of the situation in North East schools, and to see how key issues are developing. Just over three quarters of schools had student attendance levels above 90%.

While it is encouraging that attendance levels are not declining dramatically, avoiding the high levels of disruption seen in the North East in the Summer term 2021, the majority of schools are still experiencing higher levels of absences than usual.

Schools are similarly continuing to face higher than usual levels of staff absences. Almost two thirds of schools said that they are struggling to access supply staff to adequately cover these absences.

Despite the ongoing challenges of attendance for both students and staff, the disruption caused by attendance is decreasing. Our preliminary findings show significant improvements in staff wellbeing across the academic year.

Our State of the Region June 2022 survey is still open for responses. The feedback we receive from our surveys is crucial in ensuring that the voice of North East schools is heard by policymakers, especially on our exam work over the summer. It is important that we have as wide a range of responses as possible, so if you haven’t already done so, please fill in our survey at the following link.

Seaton Sluice Middle School host their 2022 Press Awards

Students at Seaton Sluice Middle School have had their hard work celebrated by the school at their ‘Press Celebration’, last week.


Students at Seaton Sluice Middle School have been writing articles, designing comic strips, researching topics of interest and putting together a monthly newspaper – the Seaton Sluice Chronicle, which is bought by the school community with all proceeds going back into school funds.

Students and their families were invited to join in the celebrations together with the staff for an evening of refreshments and awards. Head of School, Karen McSparron, welcomed everyone to school and the evening; she expressed how delighted she has been to see the depth of language, vocabulary and creativity that she has seen from all of those involved in the Chronicle.  She thanked all staff who supported the students in their lessons and learning, which has led to such rich and entertaining articles; in particular thanks went to Mrs Henson who has supported the students in this extra-curricular activity.

Students were awarded certificates for their articles and some for design and comic strips.

The last two awards were for Article of the Year and Journalist of the Year; these were awarded to Lucas Brookes and Theo Warren.

Chris Zarraga, Director of Schools North East said:

“Congratulations to all the pupils all involved in the Seaton Sluice Chronicle who have contributed to this community project. The school deserves credit for finding an interesting way to raise funds with the school whilst increasing their community outreach and giving students the opportunity to improve their writing skills and being celebrated for this as well.

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MPs debate removing Friday from the school week

MPs held a Westminster Hall debate on Monday, considering a petition relating to the school week. The petition required schools to make Friday a part of the school weekend, arguing that children can have lots of stress at school due to exams and homework and with a 3 day weekend, children could have a longer time to relax. The petition received nearly 150,000 signatures.

Catherine McKinnell, MP for Newcastle North, introduced the debate. In response to the speed in which the petition attracted signatures, Catherine KcKinnell arranged for informal discussions with teachers, healthcare professionals and young people to help inform the debate. She said that one message that came across loud and clear was the state of children’s mental health post lockdown. 

From April to September 2021, more than 337,000 under-18s were referred to child and adolescent mental health services. That is up by a staggering 81% from the same three months in 2019. That compares with only an 11% rise in referrals for adults aged 19 and above. 

However, while Catherine McKinnell recognised the challenge, she questioned whether or not the four-day week would address the issues of stress and anxiety. She argued that the root causes of these challenges are bullying, peer pressure, harassment on social media, and problems keeping up with their school work. 

Catherine feared that a shorter school week may increase pressure on young people. She said that schools already find it difficult to cover the curriculum. The teachers she had spoken to are spending a great deal of time helping children to learn social and emotional skills that the education system presumes are already there. 

Finally, she expressed particular concern for the potential impact on the most disadvantaged, including those with special educational needs and children with extremely difficult home lives. For some, school is the only place that they get a decent meal, or gives them respite from a difficult situation at home. While she said that she could not support moving to a four-day school week, she said that we cannot ignore the petition as a cry for help.

Schools Minister Robin Walker MP responded to the petition on behalf of the Government. He set out the Government’s ‘long-term vision for pupils’ academic achievements’, the work DfE are doing to maximise time in school, the work to support children and young people recover from the pandemic, and finally on how spending more time in school can improve children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Like Catherine McKinnell, Robin Walker opposed shortening the school week, arguing it would adversely impact children’s learning, as well as reducing opportunities to socialise and participate in enrichment activities.

Careers Day at Rosa Street Primary School

Pupils at Rosa Street Primary School in Spennymoor took part in a ‘Careers Day’ recently where their eyes were opened to a variety of potential options for their futures.

The day was put on to raise pupil’s career aspirations and involved people in the local community who spoke to the children and hosted workshops. Visitors showcased their job roles using their tools, uniforms, machinery, photos, videos and interesting artefacts to engage the pupils in thoughtful discussions. Their visitors included: Chris Luke – Producer from ITV; Andy Lazenby – Plasterer; Gareth Ward from Ynyshir Hall – Professional Chef; Chris Lazenby – Civil Engineer; Rachel Gunn – Driving Instructor; Helen Wilkinson, Sarah Sowerby, Salma Begum and Kodi Smiles  from GSK; Bethany Johns – Nurse; Dean Ranyard – Train Driver & Town Mayor; Sam Stephenson – Police; Stephen Harrison – Prison Officer; Mandy Turnbull from Taylor Shaw – Catering; Michael Ashton from Grande Cuisine – Sales Manager; Michael Gibbons – Telecommunications; and Gemma Ayre – Engineer.  

 As a result, the pupils of Rosa Street Primary School have been inspired and have a better understanding of career pathways and the skills they need to be successful in the future.

Schools North East Director, Chris Zarraga said:

“Rosa Park Primary School has done a fantastic job with their Careers Day, showing students the huge range of options open to them in the future. It is also great that they got members from their community involved in the day as well. I am sure that this day will be something which will inspire the pupils for years to come.”

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Cost of living crisis impacts on NE schools

The impact of the cost of living crisis is being felt all over the North East by families, schools and teachers. Schools report struggling to recruit and retain staff due to the financial stress felt across the country as inflation and costs soar. 

With almost 1 in 3 students in the North East now entitled to free school meals, and speculation that these numbers don’t truly reflect the true need, the ramifications of the cost of living is impacting hard upon our schools. The North East has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic as existing high levels of deprivation have been badly exacerbated. 

Recruitment and retention 

James Wilson, Co-Headteacher at Duchess’s Community High School commented about the cost of living crisis ‘most certainly’ affecting his school.

“We have had staff leave the profession this year and move into private industry due to the wage disparity. We have also had a number of staff leave due to the increase in petrol. To be told by a member of staff that they do not want to leave our team but cannot afford to continue to pay the petrol to drive up the A1 everyday is frustrating. One idea we are pursuing with a local pharmaceutical firm is to arrange a shared bus from Gosforth to allow staff an option to get to work at low cost.”

In School North East’s Multi Academy Trust CEO Roundtable this month, school leaders voiced concerns that they continue to face significant recruitment challenges, especially for non-teaching roles. School leaders spoke of their concerns about current national policy rarely taking into account what it is like working in rural areas such as Northumberland. 

Staff are increasingly being expected to take on a wide range of responsibilities, despite already being at capacity in delivering academic ‘catch-up’. The additional workload combined with huge costs in living expenses combine to drive a nascent crisis in recruitment and retention. However, school leaders add that the problems with recruitment go beyond pay. 

Cost of living crisis impacts on school staff 

This week also saw significant press coverage of teachers having to use food banks to get by as inflation hits a 40 year high with rocketing fuel and energy bills. Schools are receiving fewer job applications, and it is difficult for schools to compete with other sectors, on pay and flexible working; especially for those schools in rural areas where the cost of commuting needs to be considered when applying for a vacancy.

To further increase pressure on school staff and students, this week train strikes disrupted transport services in the UK, affecting many students travelling towards exams. Students and teachers were requested to plan around rail strikes themselves, with the DfE asking Head Teachers on Monday to instead rely upon their schools existing contingency plans and to consider financially supporting students with alternative transportation.

Once again, schools resources are being badly stretched as they try to mitigate issues outside of their control. North East schools have been the fourth emergency service through the pandemic and supported students under unprecedented circumstances. Following the rail strike, there have been suggestions that teachers and NHS staff will also take action with union’s calling for pay rises to match inflation rates in an attempt to tackle the ongoing cost of living crisis. Teaching strikes are suggested to take place over the Autumn term.

Beth Farhat, Regional Secretary  for the Northern Region of the NEU spoke to Schools North East about proposed strikes.

“Teachers are reporting they can’t afford to eat properly yet continue to buy classroom resources and feed impoverished children. This will only get worse unless we demand an inflation busting pay rise for all including support and supply staff.  The debate on pay and the cost of living crisis was pivotal at the National Education Union Annual Conference.”

On Monday, Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretaries for the NEU wrote a letter to Nadhim Zahawi, highlighting significant issues around current pay levels within teaching and sharing ‘one in eight newly qualified teachers left the job in their first year of teaching’. 

Beth Farhat further stated:

‘The case for a better deal for teachers has been set out in our letter to the Secretary of State. If it should fall on deaf ears, and teachers are offered a pay rise significantly below inflation, then we will proceed to an indicative ballot of our members. Teachers have had enough of a government which simply does not value them. The combination of unsustainable hours, the work intensity during those hours and ever-falling pay levels are damaging for our schools and the young people we are educating. The government has so far been unwilling to acknowledge and properly remunerate the work that teachers do.’

‘Irresponsible’ call for pay increase 

Despite the impact upon schools, Nadhim Zahawi released his response to the NEU’s calls for strikes, acknowledging teachers as ‘everyday heroes’ but stated that calling for an increase above inflation is ‘disappointing’ and ‘irresponsible’.  He claimed the proposed strike action would ‘disrupt students’ education further and said that it was ‘unforgivable’ and ‘wrong’. Zahawi reasons that the government can’t consider such a pay raise at a time when there’s a war in Europe and issues with supply chains post-Covid, claiming that the inflation that we are currently experiencing will abate. 

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Monkton Infants scoops pioneering mental health award

Monkton Infants School, in South Shields, was recently awarded the Bronze Mental Health Award by the Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools.

Monkton received the Bronze standard for outstanding mental health and wellbeing provision. The award was established in 2017 by the Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools – part of Leeds Beckett University – and social enterprise Minds Ahead.

Focus upon student and staff wellbeing

The Bronze standard award commended Monkton for its outstanding mental health and wellbeing provision. Monkton Infants provides a wide range of activities to boost the wellbeing of pupils and staff. They have a mental health mascot character named ‘Fuzzle’ which supports their young children to develop the fundamental knowledge of emotions and specific vocabulary use so they are able to both communicate and understand their emotions accurately. 

Monkton works closely with the NHS Healthy Minds team to provide children with immediate intervention where necessary and they have mindfulness yoga sessions in all year groups.

Growth Mindset is also embedded throughout the school with children taking on a ‘can do’ attitude to all of their work. At the school, a nurturing approach is embraced. This recognises that positive relationships are central to both learning and wellbeing. A key aspect of a nurturing approach is an understanding of attachment theory and how a child’s early experiences can have a significant impact on their development.

Claire Askwith, Head Teacher at Monkton Infants commented:

“I am always extremely proud of the staff and children at Monkton Infants and this award recognises how much we value wellbeing and having a happy school. Mental health and wellbeing is always a priority across the school for both staff and children.”

A focal point of the school’s mental health and wellbeing provision is a consistent approach from nursery to the end of Year 2; involving ‘Fuzzle’, effective use of the ‘Zones of Regulation’ and a ‘Growth Mindset’ approach in all lessons.

Mental Health provisions awarded

The Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools aims to strengthen pupils’ mental health by supporting schools to make a positive change at all levels of the UK education system, improving students’ outcomes and life chances. 

Doctor Steve Burton, Interim Dean of Leeds Beckett’s Carnegie School of Education, said: 

“Achieving this award is not just recognition of a whole-school approach to mental health, it’s a recognition of the school’s commitment to improving the life chances of children and engaging with the wider community including staff and parents/carers. We’re truly proud to have worked with Monkton Infants in this vital work and look forward to further collaboration.”

Nationally, more than 1000 schools have signed up to take part in the mental health award.

Dean Johnstone, founder and CEO of Minds Ahead added: 

“This award shines a light on the excellent work schools are doing to promote mental health for their community of children and adults. It is thrilling and humbling to learn about Monkton Infants and the many other schools engaged in the quality award process. I’d like to offer my congratulations on this deserved recognition.”

Monkton’s approach to mental health provision shows a great example of the schools in our region going above and beyond to support staff and student wellbeing.

Director of Schools North East, Chris Zarraga commented:

“It is great to see initiatives focusing on the mental health of staff and students like Monkton’s outstanding wellbeing provision. The impact of the pandemic has arguably affected the schools of our region more so than other areas, and the responsibility of going above and beyond to uplift and support students during unprecedented times has also put a strain on staff wellbeing. I’m delighted to see the efforts of Monkton staff recognised and celebrated through this award.”

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Hotspur Primary trials School Streets Initiative

Schools in the region have been taking part in the School Streets Initiative wherein Local Authorities work together with educators to restrict roads surrounding schools in order to tackle traffic, air pollution, road danger and poor health. 

A healthier, safer school environment

Across the country, schools have been engaging with the Initiative with the pilot of School Streets in Camden back in August 2016. The School Streets programme is run by Sustrans and has been called many names such as Healthy School Streets and Car-Free School Streets’ and used alongside campaigns and awareness days promoting biking to school and healthy lifestyles. 

Hostpur Primary School in Newcastle took part in School Streets, with Head Teacher Kevin McVittie stating that the scheme was a complete success which featured in both local and national press. Kevin waited outside the school gates all week to greet parents and commented:

“It has been such a pleasure to see so many of you cycling or scooting along the road with the knowledge that we have taken steps to make this final part of your journey safer. The bike shed and scooter storage units have been overflowing as active-journey numbers have swelled. The feedback I have received from parents and carers, residents and even passers-by has been overwhelmingly positive demonstrating a noticeable impact. A number of parents shared that the reduction in traffic congestion outside of the school gates has made their school-run experience more stress-free. All of the benefits mentioned help our children to make the best possible start to their day. 

Kevin further explained that the calmer start of the day provided his students with a happier and healthier morning routine. The launch of the scheme coincided with ‘Clean Air Day’ making it the perfect opportunity to educate students on the impact of congestion and air pollution due to traffic. Radio Newcastle host Alfie Joey hosted his breakfast show from Mowbray Street amongst other journalists to witness the cutting of the ribbon by the schools ‘eco-warriors’. 

Sustrans School Streets Officer in the North East, Ali Stansfield stated: 

“We’re thrilled to be working with children and families in Newcastle to help them make happier, healthier, safer journeys to school. The first School Street at Hotspur Primary School has been a great success. We’re seeing far more families travelling actively already and children are telling us that they now feel much calmer and ready to learn when they arrive at school. We’re looking forward to working with Newcastle City Council to roll out further School Street schemes across the city.”

While local residents could be concerned by the idea of road closures and the consequences of diverting traffic, Hotspur Primary’s trial of School Streets last week went through successfully, which will most likely lead to more schools getting involved. 

The future of School Streets for the North

Following the success of Hotspur, Chillingham Road Primary School is set to close Ninth Avenue for a day. On the 22nd of September, the road will be closed by the Council on the 22nd of September for World Car Free Day. This closure will take place all day rather than just during the school run. 

Chillingham Road went that extra mile in preparation for their School Street plan creating a Manifesto by their ‘School Street Stars’ where they stated their aims which include the temporary street closure, planters on pavements to stop dangerous parking, artwork to cheer up the graffiti, a ‘park and stride’ plan for those who had no option but to drive and a hope for cycle lanes. Chillingham released data on methods of transport compared to the national average and also made an action plan including aims such as ‘get more people biking and scooting’, ‘learning more about active travel and environment’ and ‘build bridges in our community’.

Newcastle City Council is working with schools and Northumbria Police to continue the programme in their area. The Council stated that they have wanted to launch Schools Streets before now but ‘haven’t been given the same powers as places like London, so need to rely on support from the police’. 

Director of Schools North East, Chris Zarraga, commented:

“We are pleased to see the Schools Streets initiative run in Newcastle and hope it to be offered to more schools across the region. North East schools should be given the same opportunities as those in other areas of the country. It is brilliant to see the national recognition received for Hotspur Primary and we eagerly wait to see how the programme grows within the region.”

To find out more information about the Sustrans School Streets initiative click here: https://www.sustrans.org.uk/for-professionals/education/

If your school would like to speak to Newcastle Council about joining the scheme you can email schoolstreets@newcastle.gov.uk or phone 0191 278 2767.

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Join your colleagues at Beech Hill school for bespoke Experience Days

Beech Hill Primary School, in West Denton, is hosting a course of ‘Experience Days’ to help teachers with professional development for those who would like to improve or develop their planning and teaching practices.

The Experience Day Programme

The course is constantly adapted according to the needs of the session and the range of observations in different year groups and discussions with curriculum leads.  The Experience Day programme is organised and led by Deputy Head and Year 6 Teacher at Beech Hill, Kate Telfer, who has worked with a range of schools in the North East to develop teaching and learning from Early Years Foundation Stage to Year 6. Kate is the writing lead for Beech Hill and also the Specialist Lead of Education(SLE) of Literacy. 

The course is also facilitated by Jackie Manning, Deputy Head and Maths lead, who is a SLE in Maths; Kayleigh Farnham, an experienced Early Years teacher and leader of Nursery, Reception, Speaking, Listening and Character; and Emily Jobson, Year 1 teacher and leader of Reading and Phonics for the school.

The programme enables teachers to explore and improve their practice in specific areas of the curriculum that they would like to develop. Experience Days delivers an invaluable opportunity for teachers to pick up successful techniques and formulate new strategies to bring back to their own school.

Bespoke and impactful

The session offers opportunities to observe good teaching practice, the use of support staff, as well as work closely with subject coordinators to see how lessons and planning is sequenced across the year groups and whole school through Beech Hill’s use of knowledge organisers.

Usually, the Experience Days take place during the morning and will begin at 8:30 with refreshments and a light breakfast. Each Experience Day is bespoke to the individuals taking part based upon prior discussions with participants to ensure maximum impact back at their own school. 

Jess Eatock, Head Teacher at Beech Hill commented:

“The course was set up this year as we have many outstanding teachers at Beech Hill who would like to share their experience of their subject area. Our teachers have completed research, observations and training in various areas of the curriculum and this has given us the opportunity to share our skills with others. Sharing good practice with colleagues is a fantastic professional development which we use at Beech Hill. We can now offer this experience to others to come and share experiences; see how we have developed teaching and learning and go away with ideas to move their practice forward in a collaborative and supportive way. Each session can be tailored to the needs of the participants to ensure every visit is bespoke and impactful.”

Sharing best practice amongst teachers from other schools is always encouraged and supporting each other through programmes such as Beech Hill’s Experience Days help to boost the reputation of the region through collaboration. 

For more information about how to book an Experience Day, contact Beech Hill by calling 0191 267 8113 or emailing kate.telfer@beechhill.newcastle.sch.uk or jess.eatock@beechhill.newcastle.sch.uk

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Hartlepool students reach for the STARS

Brougham Primary School, in Hartlepool, recognised the achievements of a student this week, by naming a star after her. The CEO of Ad Astra Trust, Andy Brown, dropped into the school to give the student a certificate announcing the naming of star ‘Imogen’ to celebrate and reward her accomplishments. 

5 STARS

Imogen was the first student at Brougham to collect all 5 STARS awards. Ad Astra Trust developed the STARS system wherein students are recognised through 5 categories of excellence:

  • Support
  • Togetherness
  • Achieve
  • Respect 
  • Success

Students receive their awards for their work in school but also their achievements out of school. Imogen was the first student to achieve every category of the awards. The Trust chose to recognise Imogen for her teamwork and involvement in netball, becoming a member of the local Big Tidy Up initiative, becoming a Science Ambassador, going above and beyond with her homework and for gaining 5 Brougham Brilliance stamps for outstanding schoolwork. 

To the stars

Ad Astra recognised Imogen for all her hard work, aiming to let her know how proud they were of her. As well as a visit from the Trusts CEO and naming a star after her, Brougham also shared Imogen’s achievements through their social media channels.

Gemma Kelly, Deputy Head Teacher at Brougham Primary commented: 

“At Brougham Primary School, we celebrate the achievements of pupils, both in and out of school. Achieving all 5 of the Ad Astra STARS awards is a fantastic achievement. Ad Astra means ‘to the stars’ so we thought what better way to celebrate pupil successes than something as special as having a star named after them!”

Schools North East is delighted to see schools in the North East celebrate and promote achievements in unique and imaginative ways. As we approach the end of this academic year, students who have gone above and beyond, despite the challenges of receiving a ‘normal’ education through the pandemic deserve to be acknowledged for their accomplishments. 

We love to hear good news from North East Schools, to share your news with Schools North East please tag @SchoolsNE on Twitter or apply here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeGgTpbLixAqIprwSS2JXd_AFcKYD5Ahtug_ol7BdHDfgHRsw/viewform

Seaton Valley Federation Football fly to Valencia

Teachers and students from Astley Community High School, Whytrig Middle School and Seaton Sluice Middle School took a trip to Valencia, after 3 years of delays due to the pandemic. 

The schools, all part of the Seaton Valley Federation, sent 34 students and 4 staff members on the deferred trip to Spain. Over 5 days, the group had the chance to play football with Spanish coaches, hosted by Valencia CF and Inspire Sports.

las escuelas juegan futbol

The group had to cope with he complications of taking a trip abroad post-pandemic including organising 38 Covid-19 recovery passports, vaccination records and PCR tests but luckily all members arrived safely in Spain.  After multiple lockdowns and cancellations, the trip finally took place, taking those involved on an early morning flight from Newcastle to Alicante before hopping onto a 3 hour coach journey to Valencia. 

The tour was a collaboration between Seaton Valley Federation’s football programme, Valencia CF and Inspire Sports. Seaton Valley also runs a Football Development Scheme. The football coaching programme has been running at Astley Community High School for over 15 years. The scheme is delivered by UEFA qualified coaching staff, giving young players in the North East a chance to develop their football skills. 

The trip to Spain included daily football sessions with Valencia CF coaches at their academy, fixtures against local teams and a tour of the 55,000 seater Mestalla Stadium where Valencia CF take part in La Liga, the top tier of Spanish football. 

Beyond the fantastic football opportunities, the group also enjoyed visiting the sights of Valencia. Mr Robinson from Whytrig Middle School commented:

‘Pupils also had the opportunity to visit Valencia beach – it rained; a visit to Valencia Aquarium, the 2nd largest in the world – it rained again and also an evening’s entertainment at a local 10 pin bowling/arcade centre where we had an excellent meal.’

It’s a shame that the long awaited trip abroad in usually sunny Spain experienced some British style weather, however overall the trip was a success, making memories for the students that will last a lifetime. 

Graham Scott, Head of School at Astley Community High School commented:

“The Valencia trip was a huge success and was thoroughly enjoyed by all those who took part in it. It has been great to see opportunities like this being offered once again to our students after a couple of years of being very restricted. Hopefully, this will be the start of many other visits to similar destinations! Many thanks to everyone who helped organise and support this fantastic experience”

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