Department for Education data shows North East Pupil Premium losses could be worse than forecast

New data from the Department for Education shows that there has been a 3.5% or 300,000 pupil rise in those who are eligible for free school meals across England between January 2020 and 2021. This means that there are 1.7 million pupils claiming free school meals. Other headline data from the DfE’s release showed that 427,000 pupils who were eligible for free school meals in January 2021 had a free school meal eligibility start date after 23 March 2020, when the first national pandemic lockdown was announced. For the same period before the pandemic, March 23rd 2019 to January 2020, there were almost 292,000 pupils who became eligible for free school meals.  

This data has reinforced widespread criticism of the DfE following their “stealth cut” to the Pupil Premium funding created by basing the figures on FSM data from October 2020, rather than January 2021. 

One of the largest rises in those claiming free school meals across the country was in the North East where in 2020 there were 92,905 pupils eligible for free school meals compared to this year where the figure has risen by 15,917 pupils or 4% to 108,822 pupils. The 2021 figure is an increase on the eligibility which North East Child Poverty Commission working in partnership with Schools North East forecasted would be around 108,519 pupils eligible for free school meals by January 2021. Findings from the North East Child Poverty Commission in April showed that losses in the North East could be between £5.16 million and £7.26 million with the new pupil premium calculations. However, it seems that the potential losses for schools in the region will be higher than originally forecast in April.

Schools across the country are continuing to support children from disadvantaged homes but with the caveat of doing this without the backing and financial support of the central government.  Despite this effective ‘cut’ in support, North East schools will still need to tackle the growing problem of disadvantage within the region having risen significantly because of the pandemic, with the potential of this increasing further going forwards.  

Ofsted Chief Inspector defends record to parliament’s education committee

Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman went before the House of Commons education committee this week for an accountability hearing, as well as to give evidence on safeguarding in schools, following on from the publication last week of Ofsted’s review into sexual abuse in schools and colleges.

Chair of the committee, Robert Halfon MP, opened by asking why Ofsted had not picked up on particular safeguarding issues, noting that Ofsted had ‘inspected many schools and passed them off as “good” or “outstanding” and did not uncover safeguarding issues’. Amanda Spielman defended her time as Chief Inspector, arguing that when the new inspection framework was developed, a safeguarding strand was built in and made more explicit. Alongside that, she noted that Ofsted had carried out training and put out further guidance for inspectors. 

When asked if there should be an offshoot of Ofsted or an independent safeguarding body, Amanda Spielman said that Ofsted had been dealing with safeguarding for many years, and had done an ‘immense amount of work to bring the safeguarding expertise that sits in social care together’, creating an effective central safeguarding team.

Following on from the session on safeguarding, the committee moved to a general accountability session. Amanda Spielman was asked about her recent reappointment as Chief Inspector for a further two years, and if this extension is to ensure continued stability for the sector during the Covid recovery period.

Amanda Spielman said that the likely 18-month interruption of routine inspections caused by the pandemic had disrupted much of what she had hoped to accomplish in her initial five-year term. She hoped that routine inspections would be returning in September, but recognised that schools and children had been differentially affected by the pandemic, and that this must be addressed fairly.

In terms of those developments she wants to build on, Amanda Spielman pointed towards initial teacher education and the early-career framework, developments in the post-16 world, and the continuing growth of academisation and operation of schools in groups. Asked about her most significant achievement, she pointed towards the new inspection framework, which ‘involved a shift of emphasis to make sure that we were getting underneath published results to get very deeply into the substance of education’. 

On what should change, Amanda Spielman expressed concerns around the position of MATs, and that currently Ofsted is constrained to operate at the individual school level. Additionally, she said she wanted to make sure that ‘the diagnosis process that Ofsted operates contributes as much value as it can’.

It is encouraging that Amanda Spielman does recognise the importance of inspections that reflect not just grades but also wider personal development. Schools North East will continue to lobby to ensure that as we leave the pandemic, inspections do accurately take into account the hard work schools in our region do, both during the past year and in normal circumstances.

Gavin Williamson pledges a “broader vision” for schools

The Secretary of State for education addressed delegates at the Festival for Education where he pledged to announce a “broader vision” for schools later this year which will focus around the plan of working towards an academised model with all schools joining trusts, which was announced earlier this year. 

This follows a week where the government announced an ‘insufficient’ £1.4 billion to support ‘recovery’ along with the vague promise that there were more announcements of additional funding to come. This plan was expected by all within education to be the department’s broader vision for schools, outlined by Sir Kevan Collins the former Education Recovery Commissioner, with recommendations on how the government could sufficiently support schools post-pandemic. However, this ended with the government disregarding the advice of the now former Education Recovery Commissioner and releasing something widely thought to be insufficient in supporting the scale of the task facing schools as they try to move beyond the pandemic.

It seems as though the broader vision for the Department for Education now is not looking to tackle the issues which the pandemic has exacerbated but rather focusing on finishing off the education reform which was a cornerstone of the Conservative’s 2010 policy with forced academisation and building Multi Academy Trusts.

North East Schools utilise the creative arts to benefit pupil wellbeing

Pupils at Cragside Primary School, Newcastle and Newminster Middle School, Morpeth have taken part in the Education Arts Festival 2021, producing some fantastic pieces of work, as well as sharing them on Twitter which you can follow at #EduArtsFest. Alongside this, both schools have used the creative arts to promote student wellbeing throughout the past year during the pandemic.

Cragside Primary School

At Cragside Primary, arts and culture is at the heart of everything we do.  We understand the importance of arts subjects as a means of self-expression and creativity whilst also being vital in the development of critical thinking and the ability to interpret the world around us.

Recently, we took part in the Festival of School and College Arts using the hashtag #EduArtsfest. This was an opportunity for us to showcase our children’s fantastic work. This included textiles, sculpture and printing as well as a range of musical activities. To follow is a snapshot of some of the work we shared during the festival: 

Year 6 are currently working with music specialist, Rob Kitchen, to develop their understanding of Samba music. They will lead a procession at Cragside Carnival which is an event for children and families in the penultimate week of the summer term. It is also hope that with their new-found skills, they will be able to lead some outdoors Samba workshops for the younger children. 

These are some fantastic examples of clay work that the older children have created using a range of coiling techniques. Oil pastels were used to create a resist then watercolours applied. 

Children in lower Key Stage 2 have been super busy honing their textiles skills. They have also worked hard to create form through careful use of light and shade. 

The youngest children have created some eye-catching collage work and have started to develop their colour-mixing skills too.

Year 5 have been studying Neil Gaiman’s book, ‘The Wolves in The Walls’. They responded to the text by creating some large-scale collage pieces which are simply stunning – well done everyone!

The school are also very excited at the moment because Year 6 have just started their photography project with freelance photographer Lindsay Duncanson. During the 6-week project, the children will be introduced to photography as an art-form. As the project continues, the children will learn that photography can be used to stimulate imagination and evoke differing responses from the audience. They will also be involved in evaluating their work and that of their peers as well as curating an exhibition of their photographs. Here are some photos taken during the children’s first session with Lindsay.  

They are particularly looking forward to ‘arts’ week in school this year which has a carnival theme. Circus Central will be running circus skills workshops; there will be Latin dance classes;  Samba drumming lessons and much more! Meze Mundo, a world music street band, will also perform. We can’t wait to see it!

Newminster Middle School

The strong partnerships built with feeder schools have allowed budding artists of all kinds to experience a seamless experiential journey. These partnerships also encourage pupils to follow their own personal Arts Award journeys.

Newminster uses a combination of Arts Awards and Artsmark to unite the school community through the medium of the Arts. The Artsmark award structure has helped the school to build stronger external partnerships with a very diverse range of organisations. These links are richly supplementing skills, knowledge and experience thereby strengthening our internal arts offer. Students are offered the opportunity to take part in Discover, Explore and Bronze Arts Award projects during their time at the school.

Arts Award projects are offering a growing number of opportunities to students. Competition entries, visits to cultural venues and working with people from the creative industries, have all helped efforts to raise individual self-esteem and aspiration, contributing to the core values of creativity, achievement, co-operation, respect and resilience within the school. As Jill Woolley, Deputy Headteacher at Newminster Middle School says: “The Bronze Arts Award provides a structure with many benefits for our young students. They get to apply their creative skills within a wide range of purposeful contexts, reflect upon their progress and share ideas with others. Opportunities have included working with artists and exhibiting their artwork through the Laing Art Gallery ‘ARTiculate’ project, designing and making backdrops for school shows and following their own learning path to develop new skills. Their resilience and visual literacy skills really develop over the year, aided by peer support and input from a range of creative professionals.”

Working with a wide range of organisations, both locally and nationally and have been able to gather momentum with a series of recurring arts events such as Children in Need and Comic Relief; supplemented by new ones, this year they are adding Captain Tom 100. The yearly charity Sign2Sing event has been formative for pupils in an additional way by helping them to learn to sing and use Makaton sign language.

This year has been particularly challenging to deliver the level of arts opportunities and education previously. Approaching September 2020, it became clear to the school that the Health and Wellbeing of the community should be at the heart of all activities this year in order to support students and staff through the pandemic and the creative arts seemed the perfect outlet to provide these opportunities for the school. 

One of those opportunities that all Newminster Middle School pupils have taken part in this year has been ‘The Lion King Experience’.‘The Lion King Experience’ – is an immersive, project-based exploration of theatre. Music curriculum teaching and Bronze Arts Award student activities are being embedded into this journey. It is an inclusive whole school project culminating in a filmed and live streamed production of ‘The Lion King’, giving everyone a sense of community and belonging which ties in with the message of the story. 

Other whole school arts activities offering distraction from the wider world and giving staff and students something to look forward to, but above all putting smiles on faces, have included; a Pudsey Art Show for Children in Need, 100 Art Challenge for #CaptainTom100, Newminster Angel Project, Lockdown Limerick Book for Comic Relief, A Fairy Door Hunt around the school grounds for World Book Day, participation in Music Partnership North’s Choir for Crisis and Big Gig 2021.

In March 2021, after the second National Lockdown, Newminster‘ hit the ground running,’ by entering a National Poetry Performance Competition -’Poetry By Heart’- led by the KS3 English team. All pupils across KS2 and KS3 had the opportunity to choose from a selection of poetry, then learn and deliver it in their own unique way, embracing the musicality of language and the power of the voice.

Students engaged with specially commissioned, live ‘Poetry by Heart’ lessons, focussing on poetry delivery and the tricks for committing poetry to memory. Over the remaining weeks of the Spring Term, pupils were able to learn and video their performances. This competition provided an excellent vehicle for Oracy and it has awakened pupils to the power and versatility of their voice, something that will continue to be built on. A Year 6 Newminster pupil was selected as one of the 50 finalists; a fantastic achievement.The final will be held on 19th July at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, in London.

The positive student benefits and impacts from these arts events have helped keep pupils happy and safe at school and at home during Lockdown. The activities have also been met with huge team enthusiasm and spirit by staff who, working within strict guidelines, have risen to all the challenges and worked so hard to bring the schools plans from drawing board to reality. The coming together as a school community, boost to morale and sense of wellbeing that goes with it, are a testament to the benefits that the creative arts can offer.

Damning response to lacklustre government ‘recovery’ plan

The government has announced a £1.4 billion ‘recovery’ plan for schools following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The funding, announced on Wednesday, is primarily to be used to support the existing National Tuition Programme, the development of “local tutoring provision”, and teacher training.  This works out at approx £50 extra per pupil over the next three years.  Following the announcement, Sir Kevan Collins is standing down as Education Recovery Commissioner as the government’s announcement falls a long way short of what he had recommended. 

This plan is only a fifteenth of the cost of Sir Kevan Collins’ £15 billion proposed ‘recovery’ plan which, at its heart, had the question: what should be done to help children catch up learning lost in the pandemic? In an opinion article with The Times Sir Kevan put forward his belief that “great teaching is the single most powerful tool” with his plan recommending a significant investment in teachers, extending access to tutoring with a focus on disadvantaged pupils and flexible extension to the school day, which would be optional with pay for teachers to deliver, allowing for the provision of enrichment activities which children have missed out on during lockdown. 

The government announcement, which gave Sir Kevan “no option but to resign” from his post was a disappointment to many within the sector, particularly with schools acting as the fourth emergency service during the pandemic providing high level pastoral and social care to the communities which they serve.

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) commented that this package does not match the scale of learning loss along with having no regard to children’s mental health and wellbeing. In a previous report the EPI estimated that the cost of ‘recovery’ would cost an estimated £13.5 billion over three years with a focus on “recovery and resilience” as well as separately focussing on primary and secondary, early years and post-16 provision with each strand needing focussed investment. 

Schools North East Director, Chris Zarraga, said “This announcement is disappointing, the £1.4 billion package is clearly not anywhere near the amount required for schools to recover from the pandemic, let alone to address the pre-existing issues that it has exacerbated.  We need much bolder and broader plans with substantially more investment than the government appears willing to provide.”

“The North-East, along with other areas of high long term deprivation, has been hit the hardest by this pandemic. The gap between the most deprived pupils and their more advantaged peers has widened significantly because of Covid-19.  Whilst we particularly welcome the investment in local tuition capacity and teacher training, it is unrealistic to expect that the impact of the pandemic can be mitigated by an additional £50 and compares shamefully to other western nations like the United States, which is committing an additional £1,600 per pupil, or the Netherlands which has announced an additional £2,500 per student.

“The government has announced a short-sighted and short term plan with the caveat that ‘more money may come’ but no suggestion of when these announcements could come or what they will look like. This is less of a plan and more of an ad hoc allocation of packets of money without any bigger ‘strategic vision’. 

Schools North East will continue to press for a strategic recovery plan that will properly address recovery from the pandemic as well as the pre-existing issues that it exacerbated.  This was an opportunity for the government to ‘level up’ the education system, which, sadly, they seem to have missed.  I have to agree with Sir Kevan Collins, this is too narrow, too small, and too slow.”

The Labour Party has also responded to the Government announcement calling it “totally insufficient” and they plan to force a parliamentary vote on support for education ‘recovery’ in the House of Commons.  Alongside this, the Shadow Secretary for Education Kate Green has put forward a “post-covid agenda” which sets out proposals for children to “play, learn and develop” after warning that the Conservatives are “showing no ambition for our children’s futures”, Labour’s plan promises:

  • Breakfast clubs and new activities for every child;
  • Quality mental health support in every school;
  • Small group tutoring for all who need it;
  • Continued development for teachers;
  • An Education Recovery Premium; and 
  • Ensure no child goes hungry.

Kate Green will be speaking to Schools North East Advisory Board members and Trustees on Friday as part of a roundtable series which has been undertaken over the last 6 months.  This has enabled North East school leaders to have their voices heard in parliament, furthering the mission of narrowing the gap between the north and the south in the context of education. The roundtables have prompted a variety of actions from the region’s MPs, of all parties, including writing to HMCI Amanda Spielman and the Secretary of State for Education, drawing their attention to the issues of most concern to NE school leaders, as well as meeting with Ministers like Nick Gibb and tabling a range of questions in the House of Commons.

Schools North East Director speaks at Big Education event on ‘bold leadership’

Schools North East Director, Chris Zarraga, appeared on a panel which discussed bold leadership at an event hosted by Big Education in collaboration with Schools North East. The discussion was based around the need for reform within the education sector to build a fairer system for all children. 

In the opening remarks Liz Robinson from Big Education observed that the current frameworks set out are all focused with exams as an endpoint. The issue with this system is that it has been designed so that some will fail and is unfavourable toward those who are at a disadvantage where it is not viable to access the extra support which other students can. There was a call for there to be a more expansive curriculum with a range of pedagogy to support this.

Chris was joined on the panel by Frank Norris MBE and Sameena Choudry.

Frank Norris MBE from the Co-op group who also worked for Ofsted during the period where Michael Wilshaw was the Chief Inspector seconded the opening stating that education currently focuses too much on academic progress ahead of providing an enriching curriculum which develops a range of skills. He used the example of the lack of tradespeople where it would be easier to find a person with a social sciences qualification where he lives. The focus needs to be on what communities and regions need with leaders continuing the work which has been built up throughout the pandemic with collaboration from schools and their communities as well as others in the region. He pushed for schools to engage with local businesses as they have their own “clout” and are eager to build a relationship. Collaboration is also something which Ofsted sees as attractive when inspecting as it creates a powerful voice locally.

Throughout the panel Chris, drawing from conversations with school leaders and work with schools carried out by Schools North East, observed that this pandemic has highlighted perennial issues and exacerbated them. He went on to say that the pandemic has not created the disadvantage gap but has significantly widened an existing problem. With ‘catch up’ to February 2020 now being a main focus for the Department for Education, schools should be calling for a ‘recovery’ plan which is far more ambitious than the one announced as aspirations of catching up to last year equates to nil progress for areas like the North East. The current system is built on flawed statistics such as Progress 8 which disregards any understanding of differing levels of deprivation and length in deprivation, which both impact on student attainment. Chris stressed the importance of reflecting on the past year, seeing what has worked and what the barriers have been, as well as having a realistic timeframe for leaders to make changes along with the understanding that schools with high levels of disadvantage will take a longer time to recover. School staff are more exhausted than ever and rushing back to the old norms will not be beneficial. 

Communities were something which Sameena Choudry, author of Equitable Education, highlighted as something which schools “have a civic duty” to  support and had shown in “abundance” during the pandemic aided by the compassion and generosity of leaders. She also praised the positive collaboration, initially around the operational challenges but has evolved to focus on identifying the systemic challenges within wellbeing and curriculum. The big challenge now is to nullify the fragmentation between parents and schools with a need for higher parental engagement to be at the forefront of leaders’ decisions.

The rest of the event contained fascinating discussions between attendees in breakout rooms with a holistic reflection of leadership as well as a panel session focussed around the current state of assessments and their inappropriateness re children’s needs.

To echo the opening from Liz Robinson this is an optimistic moment for leadership to step in and be a force for radical change, particularly at a time where the decision makers within government are stumbling over making a concise and definite decision over the future of education as we move toward a post-covid reality.      

DfE had no pandemic plan and we are yet to see any form of recovery plan

Following this week’s inquest which saw Boris Johnson’s former special advisor Dominic Cummings give evidence, it became clear that the government as a whole did not have a robust plan in place pre the Covid-19 pandemic.  Coupled with this, the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons published a report on the 26th May providing evidence that the DfE also had no plans in place in the event of a national emergency like the pandemic.

When school closures took place, the DfE had no structure for remote or in-school learning, resulting in children having massively varied educational experiences during and beyond the first lockdown. The DfE was also described as being “surprisingly resistant to the idea of conducting a proper lessons-learned exercise on its early response to the pandemic” with recommendations that this should take place in order to aid a plan for recovery. Without an approach which reflects on past mistakes when constructing a ‘recovery’ plan, how can we expect the recovery plan to incorporate the lessons learned over a very difficult last 14 months, which was characterised by a trend of inadequate planning, last minute reactive announcements, U-turns and vague guidance. 

This trend highlighted the fact that the DfE did not have adequate plans in place, not just pre-pandemic, but throughout the last  14 months, leading to a number of high profile ‘car crash’ moments, such as the exams debacle of last summer.  Worryingly, whilst we still do not have the ‘official’ plan for schools ‘recovery’ either, we also still lack robust and clear plans for exam appeals for summer GCSE and A Level results; with many school leaders predicting chaos and a summer of disruption as schools deal with potentially record levels of appeals.  Members of the Schools North East MAT CEO roundtable this week strongly questioned whether guidance will be released to allow sufficient time to plan and that this may become a burden over the summer which will take up the time which is needed for recuperation and preparation for the beginning of the new school term in September. 

This consistent lack of forward planning has had a severe impact on all staff in schools, but especially senior leaders.  Late announcements and sudden changes in guidance for schools plunged school staff into overdrive with no thought for wellbeing and workload.  Schools North East staff wellbeing surveys in the Autumn and Spring terms highlighted the enormous impact on staff wellbeing.  Although wellbeing has improved somewhat this term, school staff are exhausted and desperately in need of a proper rest over the summer, not another summer of disruption and exam chaos.

Schools North East and school staff were calling out for a decision on assessments and related issues as far back as November 2020 so schools could properly prepare for the summer. The decision once again came too late with staff stating that teacher assessed grades (TAGs) were having a hugely negative impact on their wellbeing

North East CEOs also asked questions of Ofsted as we still have no clear idea of what they will be inspecting, with rhetoric including a number of very vague  “could” rather than “will” .  Clarification on the role, remit, and timings of inspections need to be made sooner rather than later as this could cause further issues in regards to increased workload over a short period of time furthering the potential for a negative impact on wellbeing. There are also significant doubts over what will happen in respect of school routines post 21st June and the government intention to return to “normal”.  It is becoming increasingly urgent that  the DfE clarify what is expected of schools: whether there will still be a need for bubbles etc and a clear ‘catch-up’ picture.

Potential legal battles loom over GCSE and A Level grades

According to TES, solicitors have already had conversations with parents who are in need of legal support as they are worried about the Summer 21 exam grading system being ‘unfair’.  

These legal enquiries will look into the approaches that schools have taken to arrive at grades, though solicitors reported to TES that this may need to be dealt with through a judicial review.  This could mean that just over the horizon is a potential grading appeals ‘car crash’, with the potential to be a huge additional burden for school staff over the summer.

TES, speaking to lawyers, IBB published a blog on this issue, which stated that “we are passionate about making sure children have access to all of the support they need for their education and future success. We know how important it is for children to get the right educational support at this critical stage in their lives.” In their blog, they highlight concerns around bias in teacher assessed grades (TAGs) as Ofqual found that there was a potential bias in favour of girls over boys, against children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and against children with special educational needs. As a result Ofqual have released a  guidance report on how to eliminate bias, however it would perhaps be far more beneficial for the Department for Education to release timely and clear guidance report on the actual appeals process, to ensure that there will be no unnecessary burden placed on schools,  so that they can start to plan for the summer holidays and the new school year. 

However, Schools North East is also increasingly concerned about the impact that this will have on teachers.  The balance between staff workload and wellbeing is vital, whilst it is good that teachers are back in school, it also means a huge increase in workload, especially in relation to TAGs as secondaries gear up for what could be the most contentious exam period in memory. There are also a number of issues to resolve such as how to properly reimburse staff for essentially doing the work of the exam boards. 

In terms of wellbeing, schools are doing what they can to support staff, but there is only so far they can minimise and mitigate the impact of this additional workload; continuing covid-related procedures are also significantly adding to these pressures, which may not ease after 21 June as had been previously hoped. All school staff across the region are very tired and it has been increasingly difficult to adequately plan for exams, ‘catch up’, and covid developments as the government is seemingly drip feeding announcements and developments rather than releasing a coherent ‘big picture’ plan for school leaders.    

Mathematics research review

Ofsted has released a review document looking at how schools can improve the teaching of Mathematics in order to close the attainment gap in this subject, as well as identifying how to tackle the growing shortage of specialist Maths teachers in schools.

The review focuses on Ofsted’s education inspection framework (EIF) to identify factors that contribute to a high quality curriculum, assessment, pedagogy and systems for Maths. The results from the review will look at how Maths is taught in schools, with a core theme of how to prevent struggling pupils from falling further behind their peers. 

The newly re-appointed Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, said: “Mathematics is an integral part of every school curriculum. It is a foundation of many disciplines and a source of interest and enjoyment in itself. It also unlocks the door to further study and employment in a vast range of fields”

Ofsted recognises that there is no singular way of achieving high-quality education in the subject. However, the review identifies some common features of successful, high-quality curriculum approaches:

  • Teachers engineer the best possible start for all pupils by closing the school entry gap in knowledge of basic mathematical facts, concepts, vocabulary and symbols
  • Pupils need regular opportunities to rehearse and apply the important mathematical facts, concepts, methods and strategies they have learned.
  • School leaders can develop teachers’ subject and pedagogic knowledge through opportunities to work with and learn from each other.
  • Throughout sequences of learning, pupils benefit from teaching that is systematic and clear.

The review concluded that the difference in the quality of Mathematics education in schools is likely to be the result of a variety of factors such as the absence of systems, possible gaps in content, instruction, rehearsal, assessment and plans for their evolution over time.

To read the review click here 

Generous donation supports development catch-up for tiny tots

A generous donation towards books and resources is helping early years’ pupils at a Northumberland primary school to play ‘catch up’ in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Young learners aged between two and four years who attend Bishop’s Primary School’s early years’ facilities have received special ‘Story Sacks’ filled with books, educational games and learning resources to enjoy at home thanks to a £2,000 donation from Newcastle Diocese Mother’s Union. 

Mothers’ Union is a Church of England affiliated organisation with over four million members worldwide, whose primary aim is to support Christian family life and the nurture of children. 

When the pandemic first hit, Mother’s Union members realised that children’s development, especially those in isolated communities or areas of high socio-economic deprivation, would be particularly affected by an extended period of lockdown. 

With over 900 members in the Newcastle Diocese area alone, the charity’s Diocesan President, Barbara Packer, wanted to explore how the charity could best support the children deemed most in need throughout Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland. 

Barbara said: “Since we are a Church of England organisation, I approached the Diocesan Education Department for advice as to the best way to help children in our Church communities to gain access to educational resources which would support their development in the aftermath of lockdown. 

“The department suggested Northumberland Church of England Academy Trust and more specifically, Bishop’s Primary School. We had already decided that we could afford to give £2,000 and that we would be guided by ‘those on the ground’ as to the best way to use it.” 

Trustees from the charity were directed towards Bishop’s Primary School’s Principal, Melanie Hinson, who launched a staff consultation to determine who would benefit most from the initiative. 

“Staff agreed that it was our early years children whose education had been most affected by the prolonged period of lockdown,” Melanie commented.

“While our older children have been able to engage in a full programme of remote learning, for our two and three year olds, the lack of interaction with children their own age has seen them return to our early years settings less confident, more anxious and in some cases, less independent than they were before. 

“Liaising with Mother’s Union, we agreed that ‘Story Sacks’ – or something similar – seemed to be a good way in which quite a lot of children could benefit, and receive resources which could be used at home to support their speech and language development, fine motor skills and confidence building among other things. 

“The Story Sacks have been really well received by staff, parents and our young learners. We can’t thank Mother’s Union enough for their kind donation.” 

Serving South East Northumberland with campuses across Ashington, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea and Lynemouth, Bishop’s Primary School (part of Northumberland Church of England Academy Trust) is one of the largest primary academies in the region, with over 1,600 pupils aged 2-11. 

With early years provisions based at four out of its five campuses, Bishop’s Primary is an early-adopter of the new EYFS framework for high-quality early learning. 

For more information, visit or to find out more about Mother’s Union, see