Channel 4 showcases North East Schools – the ‘fourth emergency service’.

The amazing work that North East schools are doing as the ‘fourth emergency service’ will be featured on Channel 4’s The Steph Show.

Schools North East’s recent efforts to highlight the incredible work our schools are doing will be extended nationally as Channel 4’s The Steph Show, showcases a number of stories from our region.

Schools North East Director Chris Zarraga got in touch with Steph McGovern as part of our ongoing efforts to celebrate the amazing work of North East schools and every one of their staff .  At the moment, the work of the NHS, armed forces, and charitable sector on the ‘frontline’ is rightly being praised at every opportunity.  However, the great untold story of this time is about the incredible response of North East schools (indeed all schools across the country) to this crisis. Our school staff are ensuring that the most vulnerable students are safe and fed, that key workers can actually work and keep the NHS and economy going, and all of this despite considerable personal risk to their own health.  

Staff of all types, support/ administrative/ teaching/ leadership, have responded to a situation that has changed daily with a professionalism that should be acknowledged and lauded.  As an organisation, Schools North East is focussing on relaying these stories as widely as possible. We are delighted that Channel 4 are keen to showcase these stories and we were overwhelmed by the response from North East school leaders.

We were inundated with responses from North East schools, with amazing stories flooding in from across the region detailing how schools are working to feed not only their students but whole families in their school community, and some of the incredibly touching responses from parents for the care and support schools have provided.

Steph McGovern is presenting her new show, which includes the daily lunchtime news bulletin and featuring a mix of entertainment, lifestyle and a variety of guests, from her living room due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Steph, who hails from the region and is well known for pride in her Northern roots, has a strong interest in education, having been involved in community projects, such as BBC School Report, working as a school governor in Tees Valley and regularly running workshops for schoolchildren around the North East.

The show will feature North East school stories across four episodes from Friday 17th April to Wednesday 22nd April. The show airs at 12pm on Channel 4.

The first show will feature Cambois Primary in Northumberland which has organised a mobile foodbank, which is being driven out to the school community through local volunteers.

If you missed an episode you can catch up online.

UTC South Durham aim for the peaks in fundraiser

UTC South Durham organised a sponsored climb for people to do in their homes on 13th April in order to raise funds for their ‘Visors for Victory’ initiative.

The stair climb saw individuals and teams scaling the combined heights of the National Three Peaks challenge from their homes. UTC Principal Tom Dower who took part in this as a team effort with his family said ‘The Stair Climbing Challenge was a fantastic opportunity to raise funds for a very worthy cause.’ So far the fundraiser has raised £24,000 in total with £16,100 coming from sponsorship and entry fees. Most of these funds will go to ‘Visors for Victory’ with any surplus funds being donated to the NHS.

Tom Dower, Principal UTC, South Durham

The ‘Visors for Victory’ initiative, which was created at the beginning of April was set up in response to a lack of PPE available to key workers. The visors are produced by UTC South Durham staff using equipment made available to them by the school. Since the inception of this initiative 1500 visors have been donated to over 65 organisations in the North East with hospitals, care homes, GP surgeries and food banks benefitting. There has also been generous donations of materials from Wright’s Office Supplies, AA Flags and Desch Plantpak. Mr Dower also added ‘It has been incredible to see how staff, students, and the wider community have come together to help make these much needed visors. I would like to thank all involved for their generosity!’


Primary School Staff Show children that ‘we’re all in this together’

Staff from Brighton Avenue Primary School have made a video dancing to the High School Musical song ‘We’re All in This Together’ as a way of trying to put a smile on the children’s faces whilst they are not in school.

The school has made communication with families a priority while the school is closed to the majority of children. This has been through weekly welfare checks where staff can speak with children and their parents. Alongside this staff are updating the school website daily with learning tasks for the pupils to complete. These tasks can come in the form of curriculum work, games and links to educational websites with Reading Eggs and Times Tables Rock Stars being two key resources as the school holds a subscription on both. The school has also encouraged parents and carers to email any photographs of the children working on their learning tasks from home. Jacqui Kevan, Deputy Headteacher said ‘we have been overwhelmed with the response. it has enabled us to stay connected (at least virtually).’ 

As the staff members did not get the chance to say goodbye to the children due to the urgency which the announcements for school closures happened the staff team were left feeling deflated and missing their pupils. Year 1 teacher Nicola Jackson came up with a plan for how the staff could make contact and have some fun whilst doing it: ‘we were discussing over email as a staff team how much we were missing all of our gorgeous children and the idea of making a video to cheer them up popped into my head. It’s something we do every Christmas for the children so I am certainly not solely taking credit for the idea!’ All the staff were enthusiastic about the idea and they all did their part of the song and sent it to the ‘technology whiz’ and year 6 teacher Simon Burns to cut all of the video together who said ‘it was the least I could do during such unprecedented times. I just hope it brings some enjoyment to our community.’ 

The reaction from parents has also been positive with one sending to the school ‘Aww I’ve watched and shared the video that you and the staff made. Not gonna lie, it made me cry twice over.  Riley and Amelia loved it. Stay safe, best wishes and love to all the staff. We have the best school staff and pupils ever.’ 

Nursery provide a four-legged friend

Pennywell Early Years Centre have enlisted the help of an unlikely furry companion to keep the children’s morale high whilst they are not in school.

Doby the dog is usually in charge of looking after the Community Centre and Nursery. Despite his lack of sight Doby uses his nose to work out where he is going. Now that the children are at home, Doby is making the most of this quiet time to make some new friends in the nursery. Children have been urged to send virtual messages to Doby while they are not in nursery. Julie Ramshaw from Pennywell Early Years said: ‘he has kind paws and he is friendly and loyal’ as well as noting that ‘the children have responded really positively to establish friendships with Doby.’ Through this it has encouraged the families to keep in contact with the school in a fun way. Some of the messages from pupils were:

‘Hi Doby its Joey I’ve been doing lots of fun stuff at home with my family, here is some pictures of what i have been doing’ 

‘Hello Ava here. I’m missing you all so much especially all my lovely teachers and friends. Doby looks so cute. Here’s a few pictures and a big hello from me. Can’t wait to see you all and meet our new friend Doby.’

“Darla wanted to give Doby a high five and she said she’s ‘missing everyone but having a fun time at home with mammy doing lots of fun learning and activities everyday’”

‘To Doby, I will be your friend. I hope you like shimmer and shine like I do Lots of love Ida xx’

Doby has also been communicating with the students on the nursery’s notice board and has most recently given out his ten top tips for staying safe and happy at home

Staff from Houghton and Mill Hill Nursery Schools create video encouraging students to #BeeKind

Staff at Houghton Nursery School and Mill Hill Nursery School have created a video for their nursery children at home while schools are closed.

The video builds on the theme of bees which the children have learnt about in nursery and encourages them to #BeeKind. It includes challenges for children and their families to get involved in.

The video has been shared on the nurseries’ Facebook page, Instagram account and emailed to families and they have had an amazing response. Head Teacher, Sarah Dixon Jones, said ‘I am so proud of the way the staff have pulled this together.’

It is brilliant to see staff coming together to support their students and families, and encourage fun activities at this difficult time.

Newcastle East mixed multi Academy Trust supporting local schools and community

Staff at Newcastle East mixed multi Academy Trust have stepped up, working with charities to help support not just their students but their families, wider community and other local schools, during the current crisis. 

Of 2500 students across the Trust – approximately 1500 are ‘disadvantaged’, and staff have been working hard to ensure these students are provided for during school closures. The Trust has linked up with volunteers from the Newcastle United Foundation, with 20 volunteers delivering lunches and food parcels, alongside staff from NEAT active who have also volunteered their time to help with deliveries. Food parcels have been donated by companies including Greggs, Asda, Morrisons and Waitrose. This means that as well as supplying Free School Meals to students who are entitled to them, the Trust has been able to support struggling families.

As well as supporting its own students, the large amount of donations has allowed the Trust to help surrounding schools such as Byker Primary, Walker Riverside Academy and Welbeck Academy. Resources have been sent out alongside food parcels with the help from Kids Cabin who donated 300 fun packs which included activities such as modelling clay and tools, maths packs and puzzles. 

As well as providing online learning for students the Trust has also offered physical resources such as paper and pens to those who require them with the intention of continuing to provide more after the Easter break. Work which has been set has been focused on reading to help keep children’s brains active. For CEO Debi Bailey ‘getting intelligence is the most important’ so there has been a process of data collection to find those families who do not have access to online learning or school communications, either because they don’t have an email account or internet access, so they can put in place correct provisions in order to try and prevent the attainment gap from widening. 

There is a focus on protecting the staff and students mentally, with staff expected to do a daily check on pupils. There is also communication with social care providers and families who may fall under high risk to make sure that they do not feel isolated at this particularly difficult time. Staff are supported through the Trust’s policies with a relaxation on marking expectations in line with advice from the unions. 

Frustration is coming from the amount of pressure which has been put on all schools from the Government due to poor communication which has left school leaders not being given any forewarning over decisions which are being made which has made adapting to this situation difficult. 

Newcastle East mixed multi Academy Trust is working as part of a wider local community group, which has representatives from a wide range of organisations including the local Police, to coordinate a community response. The Trust has benefitted hugely from engaging with their Local Authority through the Promise Board so that all the schools are working on the same level of understanding. NEAT is a brilliant example of how our schools and Trusts are coming together, alongside businesses, charities and their local communities to support each other in the current crisis.

Cambois Primary School hit the road with food bank for local families

A food bank has been set up in a mini-bus at Cambois Primary School in order to help the wider community.

Marianne Allan, Head Teacher at Cambois Primary School identified that, as an area Cambois is very isolated, and has very little local shopping provision. As a result, this caused worry for local families, as there are limited transport links with only one bus service running through the village and there is a lack of access to affordable supermarkets. This posed a problem that the Government issued food vouchers for students eligible for Free School Meals, would not be sufficient for families to get a suitable amount of food locally. There was also a concern that those who were not entitled to Free School Meals, but had suffered from having a reduced income would find themselves struggling. Alongside this there was also an acknowledgement that there are many elderly and vulnerable who are unable to go out and had a lack of support. 

The school set up a food bank but found that it was not accessible for many households which were in isolation. As a result the school made the decision to try and feed all their families as best as they could by taking the food bank to the road. 

A lot of the donations have come from local businesses and Morrisons who have been sending stock out on a weekly basis, which is all sorted by staff. There has also been help from others in the community who staff have reached out to ask for help. The bus currently goes out three times a week and is operated by volunteers including Marianne’s father and parents of children at the school. The mobile food bank is taking food parcels out to the community, with the volunteers adhering to social distancing guidelines. 

It is great to see the school not only caring for those who are a part of the school, but also their wider community, and that despite the challenging times, this initiative has brought the school and their wider local community closer together.

North East Schools fund Easter FSM regardless of the cost

Earlier this week the Department for Education released plans to offer supermarket vouchers where schools are unable to offer their standard Free School Meal (FSM) provision.

However, the guidance released did not cover provision of FSM over the upcoming Easter holiday period, despite many schools remaining open for vulnerable students or children of key workers, leaving schools to pick up the additional costs. While schools would not typically offer FSM over Easter, the current circumstances mean many families are facing increased financial difficulty, with many businesses closed and staff left without income. 

Despite this, North East Head Teachers are rallying round to do what is best for their students during this difficult time. As one North East Head Teacher said ‘the needs of our most disadvantaged and vulnerable must always be put first – whatever the cost . We have a moral duty to ensure our children are fed and safe.’

The Headteacher’s Roundtable highlighted this problem in their article Our Poorest Children Need Help Now #FSM4Easter on Tuesday, and they are campaigning for the Department for Education to provide schools with an allowance for those meals for the Easter holidays. 

We back this campaign and have reached out to North East Head Teachers to explore the impact of this on their schools, including whether they would be able to offer meals and how they would be funding this. 

90% of respondents said their schools would be open during Easter, either fully or partially based on parental need. Over two thirds of those who responded said they would be providing meals in some form, either as standard provision, or by delivering food parcels. 

However, almost all of those who were providing meals said that the additional costs meant they would be taking from other budgets, or that it would mean cuts to other provision, including curriculum, capital spending and potentially even staffing. This will adversely affect schools in disadvantaged areas the most, as these schools, which were already due to lose out in the latest funding announcement, will now have increased spends, stretching their budgets even further. 

One Head Teacher told us ‘At the moment I’m not really that concerned about the longer term (financial) impact. I will worry about that at a later date. I am currently just worried about my children, ensuring they receive meals. It is our moral duty to provide for our most disadvantaged families in their time of need. I am saddened by the government’s response.’ 

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Local Hospitals Receive Goggles and Gloves from Darlington schools

Hurworth School and Bishop Hogarth Catholic Education Trust (formerly Carmel Education Trust) in Darlington have come together to coordinate donations of goggles and disposable gloves to their local hospitals, helping to supply much needed resources for the NHS.

Following the suggestion from Hurworth’s laboratory technician Sue Dell, the school came together with Bishop Hogarth Catholic Education Trust to coordinate the pick up of the gloves and goggles which then were sent to the hospital. Maura Regan, CEO of Bishop Hogarth Catholic Education Trust rightly believes that ‘every little helps’ and is now encouraging the Trust’s Stockton schools to also take part and help North Tees hospital with Martin Gray from Stockton’s Local Authority urging other secondary schools in the area to also offer support.

Carmel College principal Mike Shorten added: “We are so pleased to be able to help the NHS with a donation of 165 pairs of goggles and more than 2,500 disposable gloves from our science and technology department and I would like to thank Hurworth Academy for having the idea and bringing all the schools together in this fabulous initiative.”

A huge congratulations to Hurworth School and Bishop Hogarth Catholic Education Trust for their hard work to help front line workers.

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.