During the months of February – April, REAch2 carried out its first annual survey in order to gather the views of children, parents, carers and staff across all 60 academies.
Cathie Paine, CEO, explains, “We believe that REAch2 is a family connected by a common desire to learn from each other, share experiences and be mutually supportive across the entire academy community. Every school and every individual, be it child, parent or staff, is included in this vision.
These surveys are pivotal, and I want to thank everyone who gave us their views. The responses mean we are able to get the unique perspective of parents and children as well as providing an insight into multiple areas of Trust life. It’s important to know how our children, parents and carers and staff feel about a range of topics including the environment, wellbeing and what it means to be part of REAch2. It was brilliant to see so many positive results but there is definitely lots still to do!
We want to build on the surveys, learning from them year on year and the findings will inform our strategic planning and help us improve”.
The largest primary-only family of schools in the country, REAch2 Academy Trust, has been accredited to provide Initial Teacher Training (ITT) following a rigorous government process. As a result of the accreditation, REAch2 will be running its ITT programme nationwide from 2024 across its 60 schools and beyond.
The accreditation process was designed to ensure that all accredited ITT providers are able to deliver high-quality ITT against the new Quality Requirements which will become part of the ITT criteria 2024/2025, and come into effect in September 2024. Recent reforms to ITT required all existing providers to re-apply for accreditation, as well as offering new providers the opportunity to apply for accreditation. 80 providers were accredited in the first wave, only one out of every three applying, highlighting the strength of the REAch2 application and the quality of the programme they will be providing.
As primary specialists, the REAch2 ITT programme will ensure trainees receive extensive training in learning how to work expertly with the youngest children, ensuring they develop a strong foundation for future learning and easing their transition to secondary school.
The REAch2 ITT programme will give trainees the opportunity to train in well-established local networks of schools at the heart of their communities while benefiting from all the advantages of being part of a national network of primary practitioners.
Andrea Wright, Head of Early Career Teacher Development at REAch2 Academy Trust, said:
“This is an exciting new chapter for REAch2, building on the success of the REAch Teach Primary Partnership’s current ITT provision. REAch2 represents one of the largest networks of primary education professionals and is committed to creating expert primary practitioners and future school leaders who provide exceptional opportunities for learning for all children.
“We want trainees to: ‘Train locally, grow nationally’ benefiting from a broad and strong national network of schools who share our vision and values. We know that great teachers shape children’s lives, and we can’t wait to get started in training the next generation of expert primary teachers to do just this.”
Andrea Wright Head of Early Career Teacher Development
Cathie Paine, CEO at REAch2 Academy Trust, said:
“We are all delighted to be accredited as an Initial Teacher Training provider and are looking forward to helping develop new teachers. My vision for REAch2 is for every one of our schools to be great, and that will only happen with great teachers in the classroom. This is wonderful news that we can start to train the next generation of expert primary teachers to do just this.”
National Thank a Teacher Day takes place on Thursday 26th May! With school prizes, celebrity contests, and on-the-day activities, it's set to be a nationwide celebration of the UK's amazing school staff.
This year, the theme will recognise the schools at the heart of our communities. From the teachers helping students make sense of the outside world, to the support staff keeping things running, it's our chance to say a big thank you.
Following the success of last year, which saw the likes of David Walliams, Nadiya Hussain and Stephen Fry all getting involved to thank their teachers, this year aims to be bigger than ever.
It’s easy to get involved – on the day or after. You can a free thank you e-card (designed by a secret celebrity artist) to any school staff member you’re grateful to.
Our CEO, Cathie Paine, has recorded her own special thank you to teachers in her past and teachers across the organisation in the present.
Children from Colchester’s Camulos Academy, part of REAch2 Academy Trust, took part in a 5k walk on Sunday to raise emergency funds for families in Ukraine.
The big-hearted youngsters and their families took part in the walk, with over 40 people giving up their Sunday to raise £2,140 for the Save the Children’s Ukraine appeal.
The children, from across the school, were all rewarded with a chocolate medal for their efforts, but the smile on their faces was more because they had smashed their fundraising target of £2,000.
Lisa Gibb, Mum of Harrison in Year 3 who organised the walk said:
“Wow, what an awesome morning we’ve had on our sponsored walk! Around 40 people came and we’ve smashed our fundraising target! The walk was very muddy, but the kids absolutely loved it and everyone was in high spirits. The children all received a chocolate medal at the end of the walk to thank them for their efforts. Thanks so much to everyone for sharing, donating and supporting our cause.”
Harrison Gibb said:
“It was really fun and everyone enjoyed it. I found it moving that we knew we were doing it for children who are in danger in their own country.”
Suryaa Prakash said:
“I feel really bad for the children in Ukraine and how they are suffering and so raising money to help is very important.”
Headteacher of Camulos Academy, Lisa Frith-Sly said:
Mabel (our school dog) and I had a wonderful time on the walk. The Camulos Community is strong. It is powerful for pupils to feel that they can make a positive difference, and this is very much part of our school ethos. Another amazing achievement by our families. We are very proud.
At Ranikhet Academy, mental health is something that is discussed every single day, forming an essential part of our Steps to Success, where the school works to ensure their children are physically and emotionally healthy, which is key to their wellbeing.
Louisa Sanghera, Head of School explains, “The school has a listening culture, where children know if they need to talk to an adult they can do and can be confident that what they say will be acted on and fed back. We’ve done a tremendous amount of work with our pupils to help them articulate their feelings and emotions and helped them develop their vocabularies to describe their feelings and emotions.
One of our main interventions to support pupils’ social and emotional mental health is our Nurture Group, which takes place every morning for children with SEND, or where staff are aware of concerns for them. The Nurture Group room is designed to resemble a ‘family home’ room, so there is a kitchen area, a sofa area, and floor space for learning through play. At present there are 12 children in this group.
In the room, children do a number of learning activities alongside wider activities to develop their social skills. As one example: when they have a mid-morning snack it is the children who make the toast, butter it, serve it to each other, and then wash up afterwards. Our staff model the behaviours we want to see, but otherwise try to sit back and let the children develop at their own pace.
Since bringing in the Nurture Group we have seen a real improvement in behaviour. Previously these children were really struggling to engage with their learning in a large classroom setting, leading to low-level behaviour issues and general disruption. As soon as they were taken out of the classroom and put into the Nurture Group setting for the morning, they were calmer throughout the day.
They clearly enjoy the structure and routine of their morning in the Nurture Group, while also developing strong relationships with the teachers there. We invite their parents into the school so they can see what a morning there looks like, and that also gives us the chance to discuss those so-important things like getting a good night’s sleep, having a solid bedtime routine, a healthy diet, and even giving them some cookery instruction for the future. It means it’s supportive for the whole family, which helps them develop their family unit as well as improving our relationships with them.
Our plan is for the children in the Nurture Group to be in there for four half terms. After this we will assess them to see if they are ready to start their transition back to the classroom, dividing their mornings between the Nurture Group and the classroom, before going back permanently. Of course, if they are not ready, they can stay in the Nurture Group for longer.”
Like Aerodrome Primary Academy and Beccles Primary Academy, pets also feature in the pastoral offer at Ranikhet. There is a ‘Reading to Guinea Pigs Club’, a morning club which is run weekly where children can come in and read chosen stories to the school’s pet guinea pigs.
The school has two guinea pigs which play a key role in supporting the most vulnerable children. These pupils may have struggled to develop their reading skills, as well as requiring emotional support, and so now have the opportunity to come into school and spend time with the pets and read to them in a reassuring and safe environment.
Two Year 6 pupils at Ranikhet Academy are the designated Guinea Pig Champions – responsible for supervising and cleaning out the guinea pig cages, modelling how to care for the pets, and how to use this kind behaviour in pupils’ wider lives. Using pets to support children’s reading is becoming more common in schools across the country as they provide a non-judgemental, supporting, presence which encourages pupils to feel more confident in reading aloud. In addition, there is growing evidence that children’s social and emotional development can benefit greatly from interactions with animals.
Louisa says, “We are delighted with the impact our guinea pigs have made since joining our school– they have been a great addition. Spending time with them has really helped some of our pupils who might need just that extra emotional support at school.”
Sometimes it takes just small changes to a school’s approach to make a significant impact on the emotional wellbeing of their pupils. Mary-Ellen Krause, Inclusion Lead explains:
“As a school we wanted our approach to children’s mental health to be proactive, rather than managing crises or responding to behaviour issues. As a result, we established our Relational Care Team (RCT), consisting of five members of staff with the role (in addition to their day jobs!) of supporting children with their unmet needs.
The RCT look for children who might need additional support, whether that’s due to bereavement, mental health issues, concerns with their learning, or anything else. Each member of the team wears a star on their lanyard so any child can identify them and know they can come to them for help.
So far, the impact has been incredibly positive. When it comes to dropping children off for the day, particularly on a Monday or after a holiday, they can be unsettled, but with two members of the RCT on the gate they are far more likely to be happier and start their day more smoothly. Having that friendly face right at the start means they know there’s someone there in case of any issues.
It’s also hugely helped across the school with any incidences of low-level unwanted behaviour. Because our pastoral support actively identifies any potential issues and mitigates them in advance, a child who is struggling with their learning can access this support and get themselves back in the right mindset to learn.
We’ve noticed a reduction in children coming to us in crisis and we’ve been able to identify patterns which has proven incredibly effective. We can notice an issue brewing and can often ‘nip these in the bud’.”
The school has plans to develop its Relational Care Team further.
“We already run a ‘soft start’ on Friday mornings for children with SEND, attachment issues or trauma, where they start the day in our nurture provision. It’s been really effective and parent feedback has been glowing about how much of a difference it makes.
That’s why we want to run this on a daily basis, with a member of the RCT overseeing it, to make sure these children start every school day at their absolute best.
In addition, after the February half term, we’re going to look at organising a separate dining room for pupils with sensory needs, who might struggle with a busy dining room. Again, a member of the RCT can oversee this and make sure these children can eat their lunch in peace, and so be in a far better mindset for their afternoon lessons.
These might look like small tasks, but their impact can be tremendous in supporting all our children to feel valued and to know we are actively looking to make the school environment as supportive as possible for them. Every member of the RCT wants our pupils to feel welcome, and ready to learn.”
Whilst waiting lists were long before March 2020, one of the consequences of the pandemic has been a tremendous backlog in accessing external services to support pupils’ mental health. As a result, Camulos Academy has worked to train up their staff to develop a model of internal support to ensure pupils are able to reach their full potential.
Sam Greatorex, SENDCo at Camulos explains, “Our staff are very good at noticing triggers and signs of potential distress among our pupils. We’ve done a lot of training on this in the past and it has really paid off. Teachers are very quick to come and say they have a child who is struggling, meaning we can move quickly to see if they need an intervention, or a programme of support put in place.”
Programmes include speech and language interventions to enable pupils to have the vocabulary to express their emotions, as well as training a member of staff as an Emotional Literacy Support Assistant to help children develop their emotional and social skills.
“We are in the process of training up two members of staff on Mental First Aid courses, and our Headteacher is a Mental Health First Aider. These are vital roles where they can spot the signs of mental health issues and have the skills to support someone in crisis. It also means raising awareness around mental health for both staff and pupils and reducing any stigma around mental health.”
Another support mechanism in place, funded by the school, is a play therapist who comes in every week to work with pupils who need more focused support. If children are struggling to engage with their classes, they’ll be referred to the therapist for an initial six-week block. This has proven to have a huge impact in helping these pupils regulate their emotions, and while they may still have their ‘blips’, it’s a significant improvement in helping them concentrate in class.
Despite all these measures the school recognises that some children may still need more professional support through accessing CAMHS. However, with external support still difficult to access, by developing a model of internal support the school has embedded a supportive and caring ethos throughout the school.
Always looking to improve, the school has more plans in place to enhance mental health support for their pupils. “We want to build on our provision by training staff on Trauma Perceptive Practice. This helps staff understand more about the neurobiology behind pupil behaviours, why different situations cause pupils to react in different ways, and how these are influenced by the traumas they’ve experienced. It essentially helps staff understand that pupils aren’t misbehaving because they’re naughty, but rather because there are underlying issues that they need to explore.
These could be previous traumas, attachment issues, or emotional concerns. The programme is non-punitive and is designed to help staff identify certain triggers in their pupils and then approach them in a more compassionate fashion.”
The Headteacher and SENCo are currently training on the programme and will look to embed it among the rest of the staff over the course of the summer term.
It’s just one more example of the school looking at how they can mitigate the impact of losing outside support. With schools across the country struggling to access external services, Camulos have had to think harder about how they can actively widen the support they can offer ‘in-house’. “Our school culture is built around inclusion and putting in the work to help our pupils overcome any barriers to learning and developing a strong internal model of support is central to this.”
Beccles Primary Academy works hard to implement best practice in mental health provision. Their aim is to develop and embed a culture where mental health and wellbeing sits at the heart of school life.
This is evident in their commitment and drive to achieve the Wellbeing Award for Schools (assessment is due in June). At the start of their journey, the school evaluated their provision to identify their strengths and areas for improvement. This included gathering feedback from key stakeholders (pupils, parents, staff) to ensure a whole-school approach.
“We received a flood of suggestions, which have proven incredibly useful, and we have already been able to act on them.” Sue Manders, Mental Health Champion and Family Wellbeing Lead at Beccles explains. “As an example, we have started to train pupil Wellbeing Champions – four Year 5 pupils who are trained to offer support to their peers in a more informal fashion than asking staff for help. They will be a regular source of low-level support to our wider pupil body and will form a central part of our strategies to support pupils’ emotional wellbeing.”
Additionally, the school works with a specialist mental health school support worker who comes in on a monthly basis to act as a sounding board for staff if they have any concerns about children. They also meet with parents to support them, and recently led a three-session anxiety course for parents. “With mental health services so stretched at the moment, having her as a resource where we can call her and say we’re worried about a child and ask for her advice, is a tremendous help.”
Beccles, like an increasing number of REAch2 schools, has also tapped into the power of pets in the classroom. Statistics show time and time again that animals can help relieve stress and anxiety in children, and can regulate breathing and heart rates. Animals have been known to help calm children during panic attacks, and can be considered their friends, helping them feel less alone. Staff recognise that the school’s chickens and rabbits can be a great tool in helping the children regulate their emotions which allows a restorative approach to behaviour management to take place.
Another innovation to compliment the school’s work to support the local community, is the practical provision of what is called The School Shop. With the news full of reports about the cost-of-living crisis, the school is clear about the link worrying over rising costs may have on the emotional health of families. According to Aisling Traynor, Head of Advice and Training for the charity Mental Health UK, “Money and mental health problems are often interlinked, and together these issues can create a worrying cycle that can lead to problems in other parts of our lives, putting stress on our relationships and negatively impacting our wellbeing.”
Sue explains, “The name is slightly misleading, as we don’t ask for payment from parents for anything we offer here, but instead we use it as a means of ensuring our pupils and their families never have to go without. The Shop is open two days a week and offers a whole range of provisions. We receive donations from a local food bank, from Morrisons, and even a local farm shop which kindly offers fresh produce for our community. Parents are encouraged to come in and take what they need, and we’ve worked hard to make sure it is a judgement-free zone, so no one feels unable to access this service. As a school we also provide uniform items at the shop, as we know this can build into a significant additional cost for families. It means that our pupils can come to school looking their best, and no one feels ashamed if their family is struggling financially.”
Removing stigma around mental health is a key part of the work the school has done to develop a positive culture which regards the emotional wellbeing and mental health of their community, as the responsibility of all.
“What is great to see, is that the Shop has really started to become a community hub, and a number of parents will come in just for a cup of tea and a chat. It’s really helped us develop links with our families, and we know how important these improved relationships are in supporting their children.”
These improved relationships have also enabled the school to introduce parents to the mental health specialist so that they can access support from her, or even just have an informal chat if they have any worries.
Beyond this, the school has plans to build on their school ‘shop’ even further. “We are putting plans in place to host a Toddler Group there as we know that very young children have really suffered during the pandemic. It will be great to open this up to younger siblings and other young children in the area. Our experience so far has shown us how important having the shop is to our wider community and to bringing them into our school.”
According to research published by Place2Be and NAHT, the vast majority of staff working in UK schools (95%) have noticed increased levels of pupil anxiety since the start of the school year.
This is certainly the experience of Head teacher Zoe Foulsham who shares the view that the impact of the pandemic is still being felt in schools.
“As a result of Covid-19 and the national lockdowns, we have seen children more likely to struggle with their emotional wellbeing. This can mean them being withdrawn, anxious, or suffering from trauma-related behaviours, such as being hyper-vigilant or struggling to maintain focus.”
The school’s response is to continue their focus on a whole school approach to addressing the increased need amongst their pupils. Staff have high levels of training for overseeing pupils’ emotional wellbeing. This isn’t just the occasional CPD session, but rather the result of a consistent conversation around mental health and wellbeing. New staff are inducted in this when they join, but they also learn over time through seeing existing staff talk about, and towards children to see how they are treated with respect.
This culture is reflected in the school’s behaviour management approaches. When unwanted behaviours arise in children, staff look deeper to understand why this is happening, and if there are any traumas that they can be supported with. The approach is always pastoral rather than punitive.
Behaviour is managed through dialogue with teacher and child, it is not a shame-based approach which highlights children who have misbehaved. However poor the behaviour, there is never a public audience to approaching it, but instead it’s a deeper conversation to understand the underlying reasons behind the behaviour.
Vicky Rhodes Assistant Head and SENCO, explains that a key element to this is the use of Zones of Regulation across the school. “This teaches children emotional literacy, emotional support strategies, and helps them understand how they can actively work on supporting their own mental health.”
The teaching team also have regular pastoral meetings, where a close look is taken at children who have displayed emotional behaviours to determine what support they need. One option is encouraging children to work with the learning mentor for a lunchtime or playtime session. This offers a relaxing and informal space where children can talk about any difficulties while doing a range of activities, whether that’s football, table tennis, drawing or even cookery (whatever they are most likely to respond well to). Another welcome member of the pastoral team is Wilson the dog who has been a part of the school for 5 years. He is taken for daily walks with Zoe and pupils who need pastoral support.
The school has more formalised external support in some cases. But this is complicated by the fact that the capacity just isn’t there these days outside the school. Vicky Rhodes highlights the national shortage of Educational Psychologists for example, with provision in their borough halved in recent months. This is reflected in the national picture, with only 23% of staff surveyed by Place2Be, saying they had regularly been able to access specialist support for pupils with mental health needs.
Zoe Foulsham is resolute in the school’s response to this, “We are willing to dedicate a significant part of our budget to bring in external support, but if we can’t find the people, then we will have to keep on supporting our children ourselves. Putting their wellbeing at the heart of our school is our first priority.”
REAch2 Academy Trust is pleased to announce Cathie Paine as our new CEO. She will be replacing Sir Steve Lancashire, who is leaving after 10 years at the helm.
Cathie Paine is an exceptional leader with a long record of securing educational improvements at school and system leadership level and since 2012 has played a pivotal role as Deputy Chief Executive of the REAch2 Trust, creating the design of the Trust and overseeing its growth.
Appointed in 1998 to her first headship in a large school in the Ofsted “special measures” category, Cathie was at the time the youngest headteacher in England. She transformed the school, leading it to become “Good” in just four terms. Shaped by this, Cathie retains her passion for enabling children to flourish in an environment of outstanding practice.
This commitment to providing exceptional opportunities for learning is at the heart of the REAch2 model for school improvement through support, challenge and collaboration. The results speak for themselves with 87% of academies that have been inspected by Ofsted since joining REAch2, now graded as “Good” or “Outstanding” schools. To put this in context, just 17% of schools were “Good” or “Outstanding” before joining the Trust and 49% were “Inadequate”.
Gavin Robert, Chair of REAch2 said:
“We are confident that, in Cathie’s excellent hands, REAch2 has an exciting future and – thanks to our hard-working, dedicated staff – it will continue to benefit the children, families and communities within its reach. Both I and the whole Trust Board look forward to supporting Cathie in the development of a continued compelling vision for the Trust.”
In response to her appointment, Cathie said: “I am absolutely delighted to be appointed as CEO and I look forward to building on the strengths of the first ten years. We will continue our unremitting commitment to the children’s education and will broaden our horizons to respond to wider challenges, ensuring that tens of thousands of children are fully prepared for the changing world around them.”
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