Staff at the Education Village work to support the whole school community

The Education Village Academy Trust have implemented a series of changes in their way of working following school closures to ensure that students have access to a fair education.

As closures were announced, staff at the Trust contacted parents to communicate that the school will be open to provide childcare support; especially for key worker parents, and to work out how many pupils would need to attend school. Alongside this, a list of pupils who need transport has been collated with a member of staff being in charge of arranging provisions. 

Additionally, decision makers in the school have introduced ways of protecting staff members. Those who are parents have also been given support by the Trust who have allowed their children to attend Beaumont Hill Academy where needed, which has allowed them to continue to work. Also, to minimise social contact, the staff have been split into two teams, with one team working at the beginning of the week and the second working at the end of the week. By working in this manner it has allowed the schools to be prepared if more staff are required to self-isolate as time progresses.The introduction of ‘wellbeing champions’ has ensured that not only pupils are keeping themselves physically and mentally healthy, but the staff are also being supported. 

The school is learning about the best way for them to become a support system for families who are within the school. To help increase their knowledge they have met with Major Shirley from the Salvation Army who provided the school with tips and tricks on the best ways to provide food to parents who are in need. For Free School Meal pupils there is a group of staff who are dropping off these each day, and those who are far away have been offered Asda vouchers. Mike Butler, CEO of the Trust said ‘ we have built up a bank of food, toiletries, drinks and essentials and delivered around 40 hampers to those families who are going to find this time extremely difficult.’ He also added ‘one parent rang school upset as she struggled to find any size 6 nappies when shopping today, immediately staff jumped into action, went to the shops, found her some and dropped them off at home for her.’ Examples like these show how our teachers are stepping up to support not only their students but their whole school community. 

As well as support for families, key focus is of course pupil support with schools in the Trust setting up a specific team of staff who are responsible for pastoral care and safeguarding those who are not attending school. They have also set up a Red, Amber and Green (RAG) system which allows staff to understand which pupils may need more contact than others and makes sure that the most vulnerable are not left feeling isolated. Those who are in Amber and Red groups are being contacted at least twice a week and house calls are made if there is any concern. Senior and Middle leaders have cases where they are required to make regular contact with some households along with key questions to ask which ensure the pupils are safeguarded whilst they are away from school. The staff who are delivering the free school meals have also been asked to help keep eyes on pupils where possible. The senior leaders are monitoring the call logs to make sure checks are being made. In situations where parents of high risk students have requested to keep the children out of school staff have been working closely with social workers to ensure the wellbeing of the students. 

The way in which lessons are delivered has shifted to incorporate the ‘FROG Virtual Learning Environment’ where work can be shared through a variety of methods which all ensure that there is a good level of understanding from students. EYFS pupils have been using a program called ‘Tapestry’ to access work. For both of these virtual learning spaces the parents have been given step-by-step instructions which explain how to use these sites which are being regularly updated by staff. The schools have also responded positively to requests from parents whether it is for work packs to be supplied or the need for pens, paper, paints, etc. the school has worked to meet these needs. Also, the use of the parent app has allowed teachers to check on how pupils are progressing with tasks. 

This level of care from the staff for their whole school community, not just students, also combined with efficient communication through their parent app, letters and their Facebook page is an excellent example of how North East schools are raising the bar during a period of uncertainty.

Structure important for Hetton Lyons Primary and Nursery School

Hetton Lyons Primary and Nursery School stress the importance of routine to support vulnerable students and children of key workers who are still in school, as well as easing worries from parents. 

The school day begins with a YouTube video from Joe Wicks the fitness guru who has set up free PE lessons which are accessible to all schools. The rest of the school day is broken up into slots so the children have time for a variety of teaching activities which is administered through learning packs, creative time and active time which keeps the children’s brains active. The past week has focused on, hatching chicks in Early Years; writing a rap about self-isolation which has been attached to the school fence, as well as an exercise where the children thought about what makes them proud about their parents. 

Planning for the penultimate week before the Easter break includes the annual egg decorating and rolling, as well as the school garden getting some attention from the pupils. Staff noticed that parents were upset and worried about dropping their children off to go to work, but seeing the happy faces at the end of the day coming out of school has helped ease their minds. Head Teacher Susan Bell shared a letter from a parent which commended the school:

Hi Mrs Bell,

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say how amazing the teaching staff are. My son is in year 3 and every day he has had his work marked online with lovely comments. Also, we are able to communicate with the teachers every day. My Daughter in Reception and Miss McIntosh is a special teacher, our questions are answered straight away and we have been sharing our learning journey with her. Although they aren’t at school they still feel connected with their teachers. I just want to say thank you, you all have been a godsend throughout this chaos. Hope you are all well.

Staff at the school will continue to support students throughout the Easter break to support those vulnerable children and provide essential workers with much needed childcare.

Walbottle Campus staff stronger together

Walbottle Campus staff have come together with a ‘great team approach’ regardless of whether they are working from home or in school according to Director of Support, Tracey Gray. 

The whole of the staff team are pulling together with many staff offering to go into the school to teach or support those vulnerable students, or children of key workers still attending. As well as this the business and first aid teams are working on a rota to make sure that meals are provided to those families who are in need of them. It is great to see staff teams all pulling together and understanding that the student’s education is of paramount importance even during uncertain times. 

Work for students at home is being provided through work packs and online resources which the teachers have put together and the school is prepared to continue this for as long as they need to. Like many schools across the country pupils from Walbottle have enjoyed starting their morning with Joe Wicks’ PE lesson streamed live on YouTube. This is something which staff and students can take part in and is a fun activity which can have a positive impact keeping staff and students fitness levels high which gives them a good chance of staying healthy.  

Chillingham Road Primary Sing their Hearts out for the NHS

Students from Chillingham Road Primary School were filmed singing on school grounds the day before school closures as a way of showing their support for NHS workers.

The children were singing the song ‘Something Inside So Strong’ by Labi Siffre, which initially had been learnt for a concert in Ouseburn last year. Head Teacher Ben Wassall believes that this song gives the children a powerful voice as it is “ultimately about the underdog who through real determination and ambition finally succeeds.” He felt that the song is fitting as workers in the NHS may be the underdog against the current threat of Coronavirus, but this sends the message that if they persevere they will succeed. 

The idea for the performance came from Mr Wassall who said “sometimes we just need to sing.” He identified that there was a high volume of parents who were key workers who were working within the NHS as well as giving the staff and children something to do together before the school closed and many would not be in school. The primary pupils were also encouraged by Year 2 Teacher Miss Common to make banners which had messages of support for the NHS to be held up at the performance with some of these reading ‘thank you’ alongside a variety of positive messages. The school are slowly releasing more videos with the cover of Tender by Blur being the most recent released. 

Mr Wassall said: “Outside my office door is a print by local printmaker and campaigner, Theresa Easton; it says ‘Alone we are powerless-together we are strong.’” This message is important for individual schools to stick together but it is also for all teachers across the North East region. Now everyone needs to support each other. The North East has always been stronger together.

We would like to hear how your school is dealing with the issues surrounding school closures and COVID-19.

Let us know what your school is doing.

To connect with your colleagues across the North East and share ideas and resources you can sign up to our ConnectEd network.

Tablets and Supermarket Vouchers for struggling students

Sandhill View Academy are introducing new measures to their normal way of working in order to make their working day easier, after the announcement that schools will be closing .

 Head Teacher, Joanne Maw has made the decision to provide supermarket vouchers to students who are applicable for Free School Meals and are self-isolating or working from home. This is to tackle the concern which has been voiced by many teachers throughout the North-East that some families will be left both isolated and struggling without the hot lunches which schools provide.

Additionally, students who do not have internet access have been provided with tablets and SIM cards to ensure that all pupils are able to access online learning sent from teachers ensuring that no child is missing out on an education during the closure of schools.

The North-East has always been stronger together; we would like to hear how your school is dealing with the issues surrounding school closures and COVID-19.

Let us know what your school is doing.

To connect with your colleagues across the North East and share ideas and resources you can sign up to our ConnectEd network.

Northern Saints Trust Try a New Way of Working

The staff at Northern Saints Catholic Education Trust have moved their work to Microsoft Teams after initiating a business continuity plan to ensure effective communication amongst staff.

The move has helped the school to try and continue in the best way it can allowing Central Staff and Head Teachers across all four schools to hold strategy meetings daily to identify solutions which can benefit the students, families and staff in order to ensure that the young people who now are unable to attend school are still getting an education – which is of paramount importance. 

As well as working with schools in their own trust this virtual way of working has allowed the Trust to work with partner schools in the Catholic community. 

The Trust is also in regular communication with their Local Authority and DfE colleagues as a way of sourcing extra support and understanding of what is currently happening. Emma Harrison who works at the Trust said: ‘this has become a shared problem with shared solutions. It is about reducing workload and worry.’

Despite the difficult task of moving their work day to the virtual world, the trust still is finding a way to support the local community through the food bank. There is an understanding that there are people locally who are vulnerable so the staff and school kitchens are working in a way which is safe to make sure local community members are receiving meals. 

The North-East has always been stronger together; we would like to hear how your school is dealing with the issues surrounding school closures and COVID-19.

Let us know what your school is doing.

Valour Multi Academy Trust Get Creative

Children from Valour Multi Academy Trust Schools have used their arts and crafts skills to contribute to keeping people’s morale up.

The children initially chose to make cards for workers of the NHS to thank them for the service which they are providing at this particularly busy time. The cards are being sent to two hospitals in Newcastle; the RVI and Freeman. We were assured that there was plenty of glitter in the process of producing these cards! 

Additionally, the children suggested that they also make cards for the elderly residents of the nearby care home Lincrest Court. Also, they made hand printed rainbows as they wanted to do something to help cheer up their community. Head Teacher, Dame Nicola Stephenson, said ‘our children are showing the community action we have been trying to build into their character over the last two years’ it is great to see young people having the will to help in whatever way they can; especially at a time when it is much needed.

The North-East has always been stronger together; we would like to hear how your school is dealing with the issues surrounding school closures and COVID-19.

Let us know what your school is doing.

Incredible response from North East Schools

We know that the last few weeks have been an immense and unprecedented challenge for school leaders and all school staff, and that you are facing even greater challenges and uncertainty in the weeks and months to come. Amidst all of the uncertainty, however, one thing has been completely clear from the beginning: the response of North East schools has been simply incredible.

In the face of this escalating crisis, our schools have (as ever) stepped up to the plate and met these challenges head on.  As this crisis has unfolded, stories have been flooding in from across the region of the amazing response of our schools to an event so completely unpredicted that no contingency plan could ever have been expected to include it.  

Across our region, schools have maintained and strengthened their role as hubs of community support, institutions that are always there for families in need, especially the most vulnerable.  Stories abound of our school staff, facilities and catering, teaching assistants, administrative, teachers and leaders out in their communities, regardless of the personal risks, delivering meals to vulnerable children; of schools remaining ‘open as usual’ and determined to ensure that those children in their charge are safe and well cared for; and school communities rallying together to help each other get through these tough times. 

Our school staff are showing their dedication, supporting the most vulnerable students, as well as remotely supporting their students and their families who are at home. This support is vital to ensure that the nation’s ‘key workers’ in the emergency services as well as supermarket staff, delivery drivers, other teachers – all people on the front line, can carry out their roles, by providing safe environments for children who need it; and by supporting families who were already struggling and have been hit even harder by the current situation. 

The region’s school leaders have been simply superb and, as ever, far too modest.  As one of you put it “this has just been a case of leaders setting a good example and practicing what we preach – no one wanted to step away from the frontline.” “We are all doing ok, we are upbeat, scared at times but fleetingly. Mostly we want to ensure at the end of this we have a work force who knew leadership led a steady ship and didn’t flinch when making tough decisions. We will be stronger than ever moving forward.”  

The response has been awe inspiring.  Our school staff are all ‘key workers’, in every sense of the word, and the amazing dedication that they have shown as this crisis has developed deserves to be recognised.  We at Schools North East are determined to ensure that they are. We want to share these incredible stories, of schools whose ‘ordinary days’ are simply extraordinary.

Please help us to celebrate the dedication of all our incredible school staff by sending us your stories. Tell us about the ‘ordinary days’ in your school and community and how your colleagues and peers have responded, and we will broadcast them far and wide.  Everyone in the region and across the country should hear them.

And finally, can I give everyone working in our schools the sincerest thanks of all of the staff at Schools North East.  We are extremely proud to belong to such a selfless and brave community. And these thanks are not just from us, here are just a few of the thoughts from the communities that you serve, showing how much your tireless efforts mean to them:

‘I really appreciate your thoughtfulness, keeping us and our families safe, it really means a lot’

‘Thank you for continuing to protect us all’

‘Just wanted to say a big big thank you’.

Share your story with us – let us know what your school is doing.

Chris Zarraga

Director, Schools North East

Schools in England to close, for the majority of pupils

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced earlier this week that all schools in England would close with effect from Friday 20 March. As the country battles coronavirus, the Government clarified that this was the next step in protecting those most at risk. Schools are expected to play a major role in doing this while ensuring children of key workers are supported.

The message from Boris Johnston clearly states that the overriding principle of this measure is to reduce social contact and that we must all play our part in supporting this. In the North East we are slightly behind London in terms of the rate of infections and deaths and if we all work to this guidance we can help protect those living in this region.

However, the announcement that schools would close came with a significant amount of uncertainty and mixed messages from the media. Gavin Williamson and Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised that they would remain staffed for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers. The official advice clearly states that children will be safest at home and that whenever possible they should be looked after in their home environment thus reducing social contact. For the most vulnerable children, and the children of those key workers where this is not possible, alternative solutions are to be put in place around the region’s schools.

The announcement left a number of questions and uncertainty around how schools are to move forward. The question of who qualified as a ‘key worker’ and whether one or both parents must qualify was only just clarified earlier this morning when the DfE released – Guidance for schools, colleges and local authorities on maintaining educational provision.

Many school leaders have been concerned that smaller, more isolated schools would close due to staffing issues, but in guidance released for parents the DfE confirmed that they will bus vulnerable and key worker pupils to other schools if theirs can’t stay open.

As part of the announcement it was confirmed that exams would not be going ahead in May/June. Clarification on arrangements has just been release by the DfE: Further details on exams and grades announced

Throughout this crisis, Schools North East will continue to support schools and school staff, and encourage everybody to support the Government guidelines on social distancing. We will work to keep you informed and help to answer the questions you have at this difficult time. In place of our physical events we will be offering a programme of webinars to support school staff in all job roles and levels.

Finally, we will be offering support through our online community ConnectEd  – a completely free online platform where you can connect with other school staff in the North East, whether school leaders, SBMs, Governors or teachers.

This is a place to share advice and resources, to ask questions and to collaborate. We also have ‘Subject Hubs’ which are areas for teachers to connect and discuss specific topics as they work to support students, either in school or remotely in the coming weeks.

ConnectEd is a place to connect with peers; contribute to discussion; add ideas; support and be supported in your role; share case studies, best practice and information; collaborate; engage in and debate research; and unite schools through networks. If you would like to be a part of this please join ConnectEd.

Regional links – W/C 16/3/20

These schoolchildren have been commended for their acts of goodwill with Kind School of the Year award (The Shields Gazette)

Yarm school raises thousands at synchronised dance (The Northern Echo)

School leaders ‘extremely disappointed’ after academy is rated ‘inadequate’ (Gazette Live)

Secondary school league tables: How are they ranked and what is Progress 8? (Northumberland Gazette)

Scammers target families over free school meals during the coronavirus crisis (Chronicle Live)

SATs, GCSE, AS and A-Level exams cancelled as UK schools go into coronavirus lockdown (Chronicle Live)

Newcastle headteacher slams latest government advice for schools as ‘absolute madness’ (Chronicle Live)