Good News Blog

Engaging With Families During a Pandemic

Posted 14th July 2020

We asked Derby Headteachers how they managed to stay connected with pupils, and their families, during a pandemic. This is what they had to say:

Jane Calladine – Redwood Primary School

From the outset of the pandemic, Redwood realised that effective communication at a personal level was going to be the key to keeping disadvantaged families connected and supported.  As our most vulnerable families retreated into their homes,  a ‘Contact Team’ was set up to make contact with any family not responding to communication attempts using existing parent/teacher systems.   The office turned into a ‘call centre’, and countless calls were made to check in and offer help, including our Punjabi and Urdu speaking members of the team phoning all New to English parents to offer support, and in doing so they were able to help many families to set up and use the relevant technology for learning, or acquire the necessary school stationery and books.  The contact team also identified more pressing needs in the community, such as food and medicines.

Following this, a School Liaison Team was set up, which organised the collection and delivery of Free School Meals, Food Parcels, medicines, vouchers and school learning packs to hundreds of families in the local community.  The area’s Local Councillor, local supermarket, Creative Arts and other volunteers joined forces with the school, to make sure the needs of the families were met.  The emotional health of the entire family is known to be such an important factor in keeping children safe and well, and so this team, which included school leaders for emotional health, SEND and safeguarding, made many personal visits and supportive phone calls to our vulnerable parents; some of which were linked with other agencies, such as health and social care, who could also support them.

100% of our families are now using Dojo to communicate with us, which is a significant and lasting benefit. Almost without exception our vulnerable families are pleased to chat to us on the phone or from the doorstep.  Pupils have been keen to talk to staff to show their art work, demonstrate their running, or play an instrument.

Teachers and TAs were innovative in creating lessons and videos to connect to children in a personal way, and inspire them to become active and involved in lessons. The Headteacher produced assemblies on the School’s Youtube channel, celebrating individual pupils’ learning, and motivating families to get involved. Not everything that was tried worked:  sometimes things became overwhelming for children, and staff expectations had to roll back a little, giving families time and space to deal with the challenges of life under lockdown.

Coping with the crisis of the last few months has shown us just how resourceful we are as a school community, how well we can come together to care for our families, and in particular the power of our personal relationships to keep that engagement going.  The Family Liaison Team that formed part of Redwood’s response is a more centralised, holistic version of the nurture support we have previously offered, and we will continue to use this approach in the future.

Our tips for great Family Engagement:  think carefully about how you organise and mobilise your team; get to know families well- a friendly visit is really powerful; listen to them carefully – every family has a story they need to tell; be persistent, because building trust takes time; keep the communication going consistently, so you don’t let parents get out of the habit of being in touch; show families how much they are valued!

Debbie Gerring – St Martins School

Since the lockdown began, we have strived as a school to keep the essence of our community together, to ensure that students and their families still feel part of the St Martins community.  We have achieved this through several mechanisms.

Firstly, we have a well-established team of staff dedicated to the wellbeing of pupils, led by our Assistant Headteacher & SENCO and including our Family Support Coordinator and Family support worker.  They have spent this lockdown period working full time to reach out to parents, through text/calls/video calls. The staff team have worked collaboratively to identify those families most in need and put in place a rota system for dropping off food parcels, work and information.  Our family support coordinator and support worker have continued to provide support for families requiring assistance with DLA and PIP forms.  They have also proactively supported families with things like Gold Card applications to try and prevent a delay when school can operate normally.

We continue to provide visual resources and aids where appropriate, such as social stories to help students cope with the current restrictions, and support their emotional regulation, as well as schedules and timetables to help students manage their time at home.

We have ensured that pupils are connected to their pastoral groups through Microsoft TEAMs, so that virtual lessons can still take place, and scheduled regular check-ins with students and their families through weekly pastoral meetings.  These have been a useful tool for keeping students connected with their peers but also, a means for families to reach out should they need to.  The wellbeing team has continued to offer 1:1 support through chat or video call, so that students who usually speak with staff for their emotional wellbeing still have their needs met.  Staff also have the ability to refer students identified as requiring extra support, so that they can be contacted by a member of the wellbeing team.  Referrals to external agencies such as CAMHS, Action for Children etc., have also continued, where appropriate. 

To minimise the impact on students who don’t have access to technology, we have loaned IT equipment to students and we are currently in the process of a pilot trial with BT Wi-Fi hotspots, in conjunction with DofE to acquire internet for any student who doesn’t already have access. Educational resources and work are uploaded to our website each week so that students can access learning.  We also have a dedicated page to support the holistic wellbeing needs of the families through advertising websites and apps that they may find useful in the current climate.

Staff have also offered face to face, socially distanced, visits for students who may find the transition back into school more of a challenge – meeting in the student’s gardens or supporting them on a local walk; taking whatever steps necessary to ensure engagement with school and making steps towards them re-engaging in school physically.

We can see the impact of these measures on our school community, in that 76% of students wished to return from June 1st, and this number is increasing as we look to offer more time in school for our students. Students are pleased to be back in school, and their family’s have been overwhelmingly positive, with parents thanking us for our continued commitment to supporting our students and for the positive impact our school has had on their young person.  These have been very challenging times and we support some of the most vulnerable young people in society, but we are proud of our commitment to our students and their families and how we have risen to the challenges to ensure our school community and it’s ethos remains strong. 

Creating Emotionally Healthy Schools

Posted on 2nd March 2020

The Emotionally Healthy Schools project has been working with 107 local authority and state funded school in Derby City to develop their whole school approach to emotional and mental health. There has been incredible commitment from Derby schools, with every school choosing to be a part of the programme. To celebrate this success, we asked two schools, Asterdale Primary School and Allestree Woodlands Secondary School, about their experience of the programme and what they have done with the funding and resources on offer to schools in the city.

Asterdale Primary School, DSLMH: Karen Forrest (Headteacher)

Asterdale Primary School is one of the first to achieve an award from the Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in schools, as part of the Emotionally Healthy Schools project. The first step was to form a school ‘working party’ to explore and develop whole school commitment to mental health and wellbeing.  Areas for whole school CPD were identified, including key staff being trained in Adverse Childhood Experiences, ‘Spread a little Happiness’ and calming strategies as well as whole school training planned for the future from Harmless and peer to peer training from colleagues, including a resource kit being rolled out to staff.

A pupil and staff working party was also set up to support the development of safe spaces in school, which was in part funded by the project grant money. SLT also looked at policy and procedural changes, such as to workload, marking and reviewing staff targets. Enrichment, outdoor learning opportunities and mindfulness practice was developed across the whole school for pupil and staff wellbeing. There is an emphasis on collaboration at Asterdale, with parent and pupil input in developing their action plan. Pupil wellbeing champions and playground buddies have received training and there is a new well-being afterschool club.

Allestree Woodlands School, DSLMH: Rachel Brailsford (Assistant Headteacher)

When I was first approached by my Headteacher about being the Senior Lead for the Mental Health Award I was a little overwhelmed.  On first look, it seemed I was solely responsible for my students, staff and parent’s wellbeing and I have to have provide evidence to prove it! However, the first face to face day alleviated (most) of my concerns.  I was able to sit in a room with fellow SLT and discuss the enormity of the whole thing! When arriving back at my school, the leadership team posed the following questions; how do we tackle mental health in our schools? Do we have a whole school approach? Do students know who to go to? Can we really change the culture of our school?      

We started by completing questionnaires finding out from our most important resource, staff and students. The results were at times, hard to take as a senior leader but it gave us a starting point and some key areas to work on. Notably, I was not the sole person in charge of the Mental Health of all our staff and students. We need a team of people to help create change.

Our first big change was the introduction and implementation of our Wellbeing centre.  This was a place for our students to go and receive support, sit quietly or be signposted to outside agencies.   The whole centre was furnished with the money from the award and we even had money left to do care packages for all staff. We created a team of wellbeing ambassadors who were largely led by our Sixth form students who promoted the centre and became trained as Mental Health First Aiders.

I am not going to lie and say that this has been an easy journey for our school or myself as Senior Lead driving the change, but it has been worthwhile. We are now starting to see real impact within our school and how we manage and talk about Mental Health.  Although the award has finished I feel, Allestree Woodlands School is on the first step in a sustainable and continuous journey to promote and deliver good mental health to all young people.

Find out more : https://emotionallyhealthyschools.org

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Our Future Derby

Posted on 24th October 2019

Written by Charlotte Thurston, Head of Schools Engagement, Education and Employers

The Our Future Derby Project is an exciting new project aiming to inspire children and connect primary schools in Derby with the world of work. 

We know from the ‘Drawing the Future’ research, conducted by charity Education and Employers last year, that gender stereotyping about jobs is set from a young age and that children as young as six have already started to decide what careers they could or could not do in the future.  These choices are most often influenced by who they know and what they see on TV, with less than 1% of children knowing about a job from someone visiting their school. The project aims to help challenge this by sparking conversations at a range of events across the city to broaden horizons, raise aspirations, and open a world of greater possibilities to the children, their families, and their teachers.

The launch and celebration event for Our Future Derby on 24th September brought together partners and key stake holders. Part of the day included a “What’s my Line” assembly which encouraged children to try to guess the jobs of various volunteers from the world of work. We had some interesting and thought-provoking questions and guesses from children! Encouraging children to talk about their perceptions and challenge their preconceived ideas is one of the main aims within the project. The event also presented some of the initial findings from the project’s impact assessment, with results collated so far showing the highest influence for children’s potential career choice at primary age is a family member.

Children, teachers and volunteers have fed back positively about the sessions held so far, with 93% of teachers recommending the Our Future Derby model to other schools.

“I loved learning about the new jobs” – Pupil from Firs Primary school

“I learned that it is not just boys who can get a good job. Girls can get good jobs too” -Pupil from St James Primary school

We are actively recruiting new volunteers from the world of work in Derby to share their stories, as part of an inspiring programme of activity in primary schools until summer 2020. The sessions for children are coupled with teacher CPD, volunteer training and a detailed impact assessment delivered by consortium of project delivery partners Education and Employers, Learn by Design, East Midlands Chamber, Forum Talent Potential and dmh associates. To date, over 50 new volunteers from the world of work have joined the existing pool of volunteers available to schools in Derby via Primary Futures. Free training is offered to anyone interested in speaking to children about their job and volunteers can register to join the project here

We are looking forward to working with more schools and children in Derby over the coming year.

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QUAD – STEAM’ing ahead in photography

Posted on 08 August 2019

Written by Sandra Greatorex, QUAD

In 2018, as one of the Opportunity Area STEAM projects, QUAD partnered with Horizons 6th Form and St Martins School to undertake a year long photography programme, experimenting with different photographic equipment and processes (digital and analogue) and exploring the creative application and real-life professional contexts of photography, visual and digital arts.

Quad has worked with the school to deliver weekly sessions throughout the academic year, including 27 practical, artist led workshops in basic DSLR skills, alongside more traditional techniques including cyanotypes, camera obscura and pinhole photography. Students also took part in an exhibition project with photographer David Wilson Clarke, to produce and curate work for FORMAT International Photography Festival, shown at Derby Market Hall throughout March and April 2019.

Over the last year, students were given the opportunity to attend three inspirational speaker events, open to other schools, led by FORMAT patron Brian Griffin, wildlife photographer Jack Perks, and commercial and documentary photographer Matthew Murray and the opportunity to go on three external visits to Attenborough Nature Reserve with wildlife photographer Jack Perks, Photo Parlour with owner Dan Wheeler, and to Elvaston Castle with photographer Jon Legge.

Students work will be showcased at QUAD’s HOME-GROWN exhibition 2019 – an exhibition showcasing up-and-coming talent from Derby’s young people, working in digital and traditional photography, collage, digital animations, stop motions and moving image. The group show celebrates work produced by students this year across three funded programmes. The exhibition was launched on the 28th June and will be displayed until the 29th September 2019 https://www.derbyquad.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/home-grown-2019

Not only have students learnt a wealth of new technical and creative skills, we have also seen students with a raised sense of achievement by exhibiting and celebrating their work in public and professional arenas, and inspired by the range of professionals they have worked alongside.

Students have also developed a range of skills such as teamwork, problem solving and decision making to curate their exhibitions and photobooks, improved communication skills, increased confidence in speaking about their own work, engaging with new people, and feeling comfortable at QUAD.

We have absolutely loved working with this group of students and staff. We are proud to have been able to support them on a journey of exploration and experimentation and watch their growth in creative confidence. It has been obvious how much the students have enjoyed this programme – one will join us for a new programme next year, one was so passionate about taking part in the programme that his parents have recently bought him a DSLR camera, and all were so proud to receive their own photobook as a memento and see their work in two exhibitions.

“I viewed the student’s work yesterday and felt very emotional. The quality of their work is truly wonderful. What they have gained from this project is a lifelong love of photography and a developing love and appreciation of photographs and the art of photography. I deeply appreciate both the impact QUAD have had on our learners and our partnership with you all.” Debbie Gerring, Headteacher

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Increasing Family Engagement in Derby

Posted on May 13, 2019

Written by Ellen Wilkinson, Deputy Head Teacher at The Bemrose School and Programme Lead for the Family Engagement Project.

The family engagement programme is focussed on increasing and improving communications between target schools and local families, specifically by designing school-led activities that reach out to families in order to make all aspects of a child’s schooling more accessible to their parents/carers. The programme aims to address the issue of low levels of family engagement and strengthen the working partnership between home, school and the child to support a common understanding and approach to education.

A core focus of this work is the co-ordination and promotion of school-led community events which aim to provide basic information, such as transport, timetables and uniform, right through to supporting children with homework and revision and addressing barriers to learning. Each of these events will be held in venues within the local community in an attempt to break down the barriers to attendance by hosting events in familiar surroundings which are easier to access for many families.

The ‘Raising Aspirations Careers Fayre’ in Normanton, on 28th February was a resounding success.  The event was a collaboration between the Family Engagement programme, This is Derby, and Jacqui Kinch, Enterprise Coordinator across Derby City Schools. There was a great turnout of young people and their families, with over 100 people attending the event. There was a real, positive vibe throughout the evening with young people and their families asking sensible, realistic questions regarding their futures.

The aim was to raise awareness of employment pathways and apprenticeships with a variety of different companies from the local area in attendance.  Employers ranged from the Derbyshire Police and Fire and Rescue Services, Rolls Royce, Bombardier, Flowerworld and Joined up Care Derbyshire, amongst others, who provided information on apprenticeships and careers pathways. ‘This is Derby’ and ‘Tarmac’ kindly donated two iPads which were given away to two lucky families in a prize draw.

Three local schools: City of Derby Academy; Merrill College; and The Bemrose School were involved in the planning and coordination of the event along with Derby City Council. The Family Engagement team and the Derby City Council’s New Communities Achievement Team worked hard to encourage the young people and their families to attend. The New Communities Achievement Team also supported the event by providing translators speaking Slovak, Czech, Latvian and Polish. It was the first time we have held an event in the communities we are specifically targeting, and it was really pleasing to see so many people attending. Some students do not realise just how many opportunities are open to them when they leave school and so events like this help them to understand the different directions that they can go in.

Following the success of the Raising Aspirations event, The Bemrose School held its first parents evening in the community at the Apna Madeley Centre, in Normanton, on the 14th March. The decision to take parents evening into the community was made to remove barriers, such as transport and childcare, which can prevent parents attending. Staff from The Bemrose School, were available to the parents of students in years 7 and 10. Translators were also provided by the New Communities Achievement Team.

57% of year 10 families and 56% of year seven families attended – a significant increase on previous parent’s evenings. As a result, the process will now be rolled out to parents of different year groups.

We know that parental engagement is hugely important to the success of our students and understand that there are many reasons some of our parents don’t feel able to participate. Some will have transport or childcare issues, some don’t speak English confidently enough and others will have had a poor experience of education themselves, so don’t have the self-assurance to return to a school. We know that parental engagement in their children’s education is key to improving attainment. By encouraging a demonstration of a parent’s interest in their child’s education we believe our pupils will have a greater chance of success.

Sinfonia Viva bring ‘This Is Derby’ to the cities SEN schools.

Posted on February 8, 2019

Written by Marianne Barraclough, Education Manager at Sinfonia Viva and Sarah Gelsthorpe, Senior Leader at St. Clare’s SEN Secondary School.

We are thrilled to be part of Derby Opportunity Area’s ‘This Is Derby’ Essential Life Skills partnership project and particularly delighted to be coordinating the cultural and sports offer in the SEND schools in the city.

Since October 2018 we have been working creatively with Ivy House, Royal School for the Deaf Derby, St Andrew’s, St Clare’s, St Giles and St Martins schools, as well as Royal Derby Hospital.

Sessions have ranged from one off drop in sessions on the wards at the hospital, initial launch sessions in some of the schools, to longer projects involving young people creating and performing their own new music, and has seen the establishment of NoteMade – an afterschool band at St Martins school. To date we have been working in individual schools and over the next few months we will start bringing groups from the different SEND settings together to make a massed ensemble.

Already we have seen young people working really effectively together to make new music, and in some cases to overcome significant nerves to perform their own new songs to an audience.  One young person we worked with barely spoke at all in the first session we had but over time she built the confidence to share her ideas, and in our final session of the Autumn term, she sang a solo, supported by her peers, to the rest of her school.

Schools have noted new reactions from young people and have shared case studies of the impact of the work on their young people.

“Student A has grown in confidence and shown improved self-esteem and belief in herself. Student A felt special and talented and thus gained a sense of pride from working with Sinfonia Viva that she will carry forward throughout the remaining part of her school experience.” – Ruth Webber, St Clare’s School

Students have had the opportunity to express themselves creatively in a variety of ways, with artists and coaches alike truly taking their lead from the young people.

“I have had an overwhelming response from staff saying how fantastic it was for the children and how much they got from it!  It was pitched perfectly and in response to this their motivation and interaction levels were high!” – Kelly Webster, St Giles School

We have worked with young people who are natural leaders, and will encourage them to develop and utilise these skills as we continue working with them.

As well as developing work and relationships with the young people, This is Derby is bringing together staff from each of the schools to share, plan and reflect together, meaning we can incorporate their thoughts and ideas, and those of the young people, into the development of a collaborative plan for future work in the hub.  This has led to the development of some hugely exciting plans, to bring students from each of the schools together to share some large scale experiences. The young people will be working with Hubbub Theatre Company, QUAD and Sinfonia Viva over the next few months to create exciting new music, movement and visuals which they can share with each other and come together to perform.

The young people from the SEND schools in Derby consistently inspire us to do more and we are delighted to be working with them, and to be able to showcase their incredible creativity with the rest of the city.

Sinfonia Viva at St Clares

When year 10 were told that they would be participating in a music workshop over several weeks with Sinfonia Viva there were the expected mixed responses. Some pupils were anxious about working with new people, others were concerned about using their own voices in front of others, some pupils were simply disinterested in the ‘type’ of music that Sinfonia Viva appeared to be about. “But Miss, I don’t like classical music” was a response that resounded throughout the classroom. My words cannot do justice to the changes that I witnessed in these children over the weeks that followed.

The music sessions were engaging and fun and very quickly even the most reluctant pupils were joining in. The musical instruments that were played were a delight to listen to, with children talking about ‘feeling’ the music in later conversations. This is significant; at St. Clare’s we place great emphasis on developing our students’ ability to recognise and express their feelings and emotions.

The staff from Sinfonia Viva were not only talented musicians but were also patient, kind and empathetic people who were able to support and encourage our pupils with a real belief that they were absolutely capable of the tasks presented to them. The biggest reward for the children was the pleasure that they had in creating their own music. With professional musicians by their side they were able to create the most wonderful songs which they were proud to be part of. Being able to perform in front of others is, perhaps, one of the most difficult things that we ask of our pupils. Many adults would shy away from such a task. And yet, our year 10 pupils stood on the stage with their heads held high and performed for the entire school and they enjoyed it and were proud of their achievement.

The same previously reluctant children were disappointed that the sessions were over. Many now have a new-found respect for music, musical instruments and for musicians as well as a confidence in their own abilities to take part in something different. We are looking forward to working with Sinfonia Viva in the future and embedding these sessions in our curriculum.

Phonics at Rosehill

Posted on November 13, 2018

Written by Helen Kelk, Headteacher of Rosehill Infant School


I am extremely proud to be writing a blog about our school to celebrate our achievement in phonics last academic year where we achieved 82% and matched the national average.
Our school is an inner city infant and nursery school. 96% of pupils come from minority ethnic backgrounds. The number of languages spoken within our school community has remained high with 31 languages spoken in September 2018 (27 in February 2018). The School Deprivation Indicator is consistently very high and above National, and this is reflective of the community we are proud to serve.
Our phonics data had been on a downwards trend for the past three years, with only 68% of the year 1 children passing in 2017. To improve the teaching of phonics, we applied to be part of the Derby City PSG phonics programme which helped us identify our strengths and weaknesses in school and gave us continual support through network meetings, external staff training and bespoke in school training. It is a partnership programme led by Derby Early Years Teaching School, an independent literacy consultant and a Local Authority assessment lead sharing expertise and on hand to offer guidance and support. We were assigned an SLE in phonics who carried out a whole school phonics 360 review and delivered phonics training to ensure effective practice throughout school.
Working in collaboration with my senior leadership team, we prioritised phonics in our school development plan and firmly believed that the best way forward was to have a balanced approach to reading and writing in school. Phonics is an essential strategy in learning to read and spell now closely follow Letters and Sounds as our tool for teaching phonics systematically and ensure continuity and consistency of phonics teaching throughout the school.
As a school we strongly believe good phonics teaching happens when it is exciting, interactive and purposeful and children are actively engaged. We know that children retain their learning best when they have talked about it, investigated and experimented with it. At Rosehill, we ensure children are excited about ‘Phonics time’. The reading and writing of sentences to show the application of phonics is no longer just sitting on the carpet and writing sentences on whiteboards, but it is done through working together to build words and read and write fun, silly sentences. Application of phonics is also incorporated throughout all other areas of learning, particularly in guided reading; resulting in improved reading results. Children are taught to understand that phonics is important in every subject and they take pride in getting their spellings right no matter what subject they are learning. Book scrutinies and learning walks monitor the use of phonics to ensure application is taking place throughout the taught curriculum.
As a school, we are aware of the vital role parents play in their child’s education. To maximise the parental impact, we have engaged parents in a wide variety of school- led activities including interactive, hands on phonics workshops, family learning and class drop in where parents had the opportunity to watch teachers deliver phonics sessions. This allows them to have the confidence to support their child at home.
This year we continue to be part of the phonics programme to build on and embed our skills and knowledge. A member of the team has now been appointed as a LA phonics champion to support other schools in the Derby City PSG programme and share good practice as we continue our successful phonics journey.