Story: Debi’s story

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I grew up in the East End of Newcastle and believe passionately in the area, the community and the people.

Having also worked here for the last two decades I know that while it has its problems, it also has huge potential. In order to realise that potential, we need to work with families and the communities in which they live to help tackle any problems they are experiencing.

Families in disadvantaged areas face many barriers which they can struggle to overcome. They are held back by a multitude of problems, often related to poverty and mental health.

It is difficult for families to shield children from issues such as these, and ultimately their education suffers. In the worst-case scenario, they do not attend school at all.

As a result, we have many examples of  children joining our schools with a history of exclusions and long-term absences.

If we are to nurture and protect these vulnerable learners, we need to work with the whole family, not just the child in isolation, and do so at an early stage. Too often, problems are not identified until the child has already been admitted into the school.

I applied to Let Teachers SHINE for funding and support because I had a vision of a system that would help us identify and assess the needs of vulnerable learners – those already in our schools, and those being admitted during the school year.

I also wanted to create a new position within the school team to champion these young people, help them as they were inducted into our schools, and to work with their families to get them the right support.

What the SHINE project has told us more than anything is that it’s the relationships that count, much more than any one intervention or programme. Sometimes the most important challenge we face is to listen.

Debi Bailey

Since winning an award from Let Teachers SHINE, we have made great progress.

We have developed a system of assessing the need of every child and their family in a clear, consistent way, using a common language when talking about areas of vulnerability.

Being able to correctly pinpoint the needs of a child means we can be more effective in the support that they receive.

We appointed a Vulnerable Learners Lead to establish positive relationships with our families.

She identifies problems, points families in the direction of the right support and offers advice and information.

Across the academic year, 96% of the 186 vulnerable learners who moved into our schools remained for the whole of the academic year due to the plan of support we were able to put in place pre admission.

We have also seen an improvement in behaviour and the number of exclusions has fallen.

Strong relationships have been built, not only with families but with fellow professionals in and outside of schools. Having a single point of contact has meant people feel more comfortable getting in touch for advice and guidance.

The new system has also identified where gaps in support exist. It was immediately ascertained, for instance, that the trust lacked access to swift and appropriate means of supporting pupils with their mental health. As a result, the trust intends to appoint a full-time counsellor, and staff have received additional training.

Debi Bailey
Debi Bailey

Our partnership with SHINE has enabled us to meet like-minded individuals and organisations to develop our thinking as well as share our successes and learning to date.

We have also recruited a primary teacher into our secondary school where we will offer a primary-based curriculum to our more vulnerable pupils.

Our approach to supporting vulnerable learners has been shared and adopted by other local authorities and schools, which has given us the confidence that this simple approach to identifying and then supporting some of our most vulnerable young people is robust and easily adaptable.

Furthermore, we have worked more intensively with one school and have supported them in adopting the processes and systems.

Thanks to a connection made through SHINE, we are in the early stages of a major new project that will see us work very closely with one of the communities we serve.

As professionals we can sometimes get too caught up in our own opinions or perspectives, and it’s easy to become detached from the real experiences of our children and families. What the SHINE project has told us more than anything is that it’s the relationships that count, much more than any one intervention or programme. Sometimes the most important challenge we face is to listen.