A Fifth Year Of Dfe Funding For Stoke-On-Trent Opportunity Area

Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area has been awarded a further £1.39m to help children and young people’s learning and development in the wake of the pandemic.

The funding boost, announced today by the Department for Education, is part of 18m funding to extend the work of the Opportunity Area for a fifth consecutive year and will focus on getting young children ‘school ready’, improving results in English, Maths and Science and catch up on lost learning during the 2021/22 academic year.

Another priority is reducing the number of young people not in education, employment or training and addressing their social, emotional and mental health needs.

Ensuring every child has access to the high-quality education and support they deserve is a key part of the government’s levelling up agenda. The Prime Minister has today set out his renewed commitment to ensuring opportunity is spread equally throughout the country and has endorsed the Opportunity Areas programme as a key part of this.

Opportunity Areas Minister Michelle Donelan said:

“Opportunity Areas have been making a real difference in levelling up the outcomes for children and young people in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country, from early years into employment. We have seen this difference in the rising standards in key subjects like maths and phonics, in how the targeted support available is boosting young people’s confidence to succeed and in how each area was able to adapt to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I have seen first-hand how the dedication and commitment of people on the ground in these areas is driving school improvement and removing the barriers to success.  This funding will enable them to continue this important work, help sustain long-term improvements and outcomes, support even more children and young people, and level up standards across England.”

Welcoming the additional funding, Opportunity Area Co-Chair Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL said: “This has been an incredibly disruptive year for children and young people and their learning and development. We know that areas like Stoke-on-Trent have been hit hardest.”

“This additional funding will address a number of issues experienced as a result of the pandemic, ranging  from support for children needing speech therapy,  “catch up” activity for pupils who have missed out on their learning, and support for young people who are struggling with their mental health.”

English, Maths and Science initiatives delivered through: the English Excellence Partnership, Maths Excellence Partnerships, and Science Across the City, will benefit from additional funding which will be used to support transition to secondary schools and address “learning loss” suffered through the pandemic.

Targeted maths support will be made available to primary schools most in need and lead science teachers will be developed to build capacity in the subject and help embed science learning communities.

Councillor Janine Bridges, cabinet member for the economy and education at Stoke-on-Trent City Council said: “I welcome an extension as the Opportunity Area programme provides a real opportunity to make a difference to the lives of children and young people. In recent years we have made a strong investment in education and there has been a drive across the city to improve the number of good and outstanding schools, this is something we are passionate about and hope to continue.”

Further support will target 16 – 19 year olds, part of which will allow them to catch up following the pandemic and provide employability support and opportunities, in a bid to reduce the numbers of young people not in education employment or training.

At the same time OA funding will be used to create a network of trained Emotional Wellbeing Advisers to work in sixth forms and colleges and offer early intervention mental health support for Year 10’s and 11’s whose transition has been impacted by COVID-19.

The Football Mentoring Project launched earlier this year also receives a boost. Through the scheme, young people hit hardest by the pandemic are being offered mental health and wellbeing support by Stoke City FC, Port Vale FC and Staffordshire University to help them stay engaged in education so they can catch up on lost learning and raise their aspirations.

City Football clubs to mentor pupils hit hardest by pandemic

Young people hit hardest by the pandemic are being offered mental health and wellbeing support by Stoke City FC, Port Vale FC and Staffordshire University to help them stay engaged in education so they can catch up on lost learning and raise their aspirations.

Through the Government’s Opportunity Areas programme, Stoke City, Port Vale and Blackpool Football Clubs are working with pupils aged 11 to 19 who are disadvantaged, vulnerable or at risk of falling out of education, employment or training.

These schemes will give young people a way to talk through their anxieties and fears with trained mentors in one-to-one sessions at school and college, or online during the period of national restrictions, as part of the support on offer. They will help them find ways to overcome any obstacles, build their confidence and resilience so they are ready to learn and do not fall behind. Many of these pupils are vulnerable and can still attend school along with key worker children.

Funded by Stoke-on-Trent and Blackpool Opportunity Areas, the pastoral support is being delivered through the football club’s community teams, building on their existing outreach work which has made them a recognised brand in their community. Each football club is working with another in a different area to set up similar mentoring schemes and help even more young people.

Staffordshire University is also involved in the initiative and has trained 50 student mentors to work with 100 pupils across five Stoke-on-Trent high schools. The six-week programme will launch when lockdown lifts.  

Minister for the Opportunity Areas Michelle Donelan said: “Our focus throughout the pandemic has been to protect the most vulnerable in our society, creating new opportunities that secure their future success in spite of the challenges we face as a country.

“It is fantastic to see investment from our Opportunity Areas programme benefitting these schemes in Stoke-on-Trent and Blackpool, supporting young people’s mental health and wellbeing so they are ready to catch up on lost learning and do not fall behind.

“By sharing their resources and expertise with clubs in Fleetwood, Rotherham and Lincoln, even more secondary pupils can build life skills like confidence and resilience to tackle obstacles and thrive.”

During the period of national restrictions, mentoring is happening face-to-face or online, ensuring the most vulnerable continue to get the support they need whether learning at home or school.

Stoke City FC is helping up to 25 secondary pupils with emotional and mental health support so they are ready to catch up on time out of the classroom and do not fall behind in their education. Each referred pupil has twice weekly sessions with a mentor either remotely or face-to-face to identify and address key areas of concern and build resilience. The club is working with Rotherham United FC to set up a mentoring scheme to support around 10 pupils.

Adrian Hurst, Head of Community at Stoke City Football Club Community Trust, said:

“We are delighted to offer this project to support young people in Stoke-on-Trent. During the current restrictions, we are able to provide emotional well-being and practical support to young people whose education has been impacted by the pandemic.”

Meanwhile Port Vale’s mentoring co-ordinator will assess provision across the city to identify key gaps and establish a mentoring network to support young people and their families who have been impacted by the pandemic. The club is also working with nine secondary schools to offer support to around 124 pupils, helping them overcome challenges so they stay engaged with their learning, avoid criminal exploitation, raise their aspirations, and take advantage of career opportunities. Port Vale is now working with Lincoln City to share resources and identify pupils in two secondary schools that need extra support.

Steve Cato, Project Co-ordinator for Port Vale Foundation Trust, said:

“The mentoring programme is a huge growth area for the foundation and will enable us to fulfil our community club ambitions. Stoke-on-Trent has a high need for a project like this, supporting young people who need it most.

“Along with our network of partner agencies, we will provide structured, safe and progressive mentoring for young people in our city.”

 It follows confirmation of funding allocations for the fourth year of the Opportunity Areas programme last July, including a share of £1 million specifically to support ‘twinning’ work and expand the programme’s reach. Stoke-on-Trent and Blackpool Opportunity Areas have each invested £100,000 into these football club projects.

Co-Chair of Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area and Staffordshire University Vice-Chancellor Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL added:

 “This is a hugely worthwhile project led by our local football clubs and our University is playing its part through 50 trained student mentors who will mentoring 100 pupils across five local high schools.”

“These are especially difficult times for young people and we really hope that this structured contact from trained student mentors will help them to catch up on lost learning, build confidence and self-worth and support them to overcome the challenges they face.”

City primaries recognised for raising pupils’ aspirations

Primary schools across Stoke-on-Trent have been recognised for their work in raising the career aspirations of their pupils.

All schools got to take part in the Opportunity Area funded ‘Employers into Primaries’ project launched in 2019 which also gave them the opportunity to put in a submission for a Quality Award.

Many schools took advantage of new opportunities to involve pupils in planning for their futures and activities have ranged from careers fairs involving parents and employers to workshops which have involved pupils learning more about jobs in a specific sector.

Lisa Rodgers, from Moorpark Junior School in Burslem, said: “From September to March, we ran a number of activities to support children in their careers learning such as enterprise weeks where the children researched and created a product to make and sell.”

Amanda Whitmore, Year 6 teacher at Eaton Park Academy, Bucknall, added: “Something we did which has a massive impact on our children was the ‘Aspirations Week’ that we put together in the first half term. During this time, the children had experiences with many different people from a range of exciting careers. This included a vet, a former army major, a firefighter who dealt with the Smiler crash and even a Premier League referee. These were perfect opportunities to raise the aspirations of our children by speaking to local and successful people.”

Although planned activities for this year were impacted by Covid-19, some schools used the opportunity to focus on the important job roles undertaken by key workers.

Jade Archer from Maple Court Academy, Bentilee, said: “Whilst in lockdown we asked the children to make posters about the key worker jobs and how important they were throughout the pandemic. When we returned to school, we were able to continue our careers work with virtual sessions including virtual tours of some workplaces and watching video tours of some unique jobs such as Google and games development. “

“The children have enjoyed learning about a wider range of careers and many have been excited to learn about jobs that they didn’t know were available. They are enthusiastic about their future and they know that they can achieve anything that they set their mind too.” 

Pupils from Milton Primary Academy took part in a tree and planting workshop which gave them the opportunity to learn about outdoor career opportunities such as landscaping and gardening and an Engineering Day which involved them in activities which varied from building their own rollercoasters to cracking codes.

Acting Headtacher Rebecca Bailey said: “This project allowed our children to be exposed to a vast range of careers they would never have considered otherwise. There is no doubt that it left the children feeling inspired and excited about their aspirations – a value that we will continue to nurture through our Compass for Life lessons and many more career related learning opportunities in the future.”   

Schools which received the “outstanding” Quality Award were: Eaton Park Academy, Milton Primary Academy, Moorpark Junior School, St Gregory’s Catholic Academy, St Joseph’s Catholic Academy, Stoke Minster Primary School, St Peter’s Catholic Academy, St Thomas Aquinas Catholic Primary, Sutherland Academy, The Meadows Primary Academy and the Willows Primary school.

Cllr Janine Bridges, cabinet member for education and economy said: “Raising children’s aspirations is something that I am extremely passionate about and I’m really pleased so many of primary schools across the city have entered into the spirit of the project. They have pulled out all the stops, involving their pupils, parents and local employers in creative ways to understand more about different jobs, careers and the skills involved. We’re especially pleased that their work, supported through the Opportunity Area, is helping to raise the aspirations of children living in Stoke-on-Trent.”

The Opportunity Area work complements the initiatives by Wavemaker and the City Council through their Democracy days and Science Days in targeting primary school pupils to encourage them to think about their own skills and aspirations and how these can be channelled into forging a career for themselves. It gave them an opportunity to establish what they were good at and got them thinking how they could use their skills to create for themselves a career they would love doing.

100,608 correct answers in online maths competition

Maths champions from across the City are celebrating ‘rockstar’ status after clocking up a phenomenal number of correct answers following a week of quizzing on their times tables.

The Top of the Rocks initiative is run by the Maths Excellence Partnership and funded by Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area to drive up engagement and raise standards in Key Stage 2 Maths.

Involving 40 primarily schools across the city, the online competition was launched in celebration of Maths Week England.

Ceri Bedford from the Maths Excellence Partnership said: “Our top 10 pupils each answered over 50,000 questions correctly in the week which is incredible.” 

Top performing schools were St Thomas Aquinas Catholic Primary, St Augustine’s Catholic Primary, and Park Hall Academy. However the overall winner, Ethan Dutton, from St Teresa’s Catholic Primary School scored a magnificent 100,608 correct answers. 

Ceri added: “It was fantastic to see the engagement throughout the week and the incredible effort so many children put into the competition and so encouraging to hear schools reporting that that the children’s times tables skills have improved such a lot. 

Hannah Davies, teacher at St Augustine’s Catholic Primary Academy, said: “This competition has been such a lift for us and an amazing driver for times tables.”

The Top of the Rocks times table competition will be repeated for Year 5s in January.

Opportunity Area Launches Search for Top Times Tables Talent

AN ONLINE competition to test the Maths ‘metal’ of youngsters across Stoke-on-Trent primary schools has launched this week in celebration of Maths Week England.

The City-wide Top of the Rocks initiative is run by the Maths Excellence Partnership and funded by Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area to drive up engagement and raise standards in Key Stage 2 Maths. This year’s competition is running online using the Times Table Rockstars app.

Ceri Bedford from the Maths Excellence Partnership said: “We launched this competition in January last year with around 40 Year 4 pupils from 20 primary schools taking part in the city final.

“By moving online we have increased participation with Year 4 children in 40 schools ready to compete from 9am today. We expect to see a real flurry of activity in classrooms and at home where pupils can practice their times table knowledge and their ability to answer questions against the clock.”

Natalie Godwin, a Maths Specialist Leader of Education based at the Coop Academy, who helped to organise last year’s City finals of the competition at Port Vale Football Club, added: “This year the bar is set particularly high as last year’s winner from Stoke Minster primary school answered an incredible 60 questions in a minute on paper. We have some great prizes up for grabs and look forward to discovering our Year 4 Times Table talent.”

Launching today, the Top of the Rocks competition will run for a week to coincide with Maths Week England. There will be prizes for the top students in each school, the top 10 in the city and for the top five schools.

Emma Hawkes, an Assistant Headteacher and a Maths Specialist Leader of Education at Park Hall Academy, added, “The children have been asking everyday if the competition has started yet. Team spirit is high, and the children are determined to be at the top of the leaderboard.”

Another initiative, supported by the Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area, involves Year 6 students taking part in maths challenges sessions run in collaboration with the City’s secondary schools. These are also being run online via live or recorded sessions and St Margaret Ward Catholic Academy are intending to run their first session of the year this week focusing on special numbers to their cluster primary schools.

Ceri added: “It’s especially important that we are encouraging younger pupils to enjoy and feel confident in maths and these initiatives are a fun and engaging way to involve young people in understanding its importance and where it can take them.”

Creative Education Partnership Resources

Creative Education Partnership have shared a number of resources that they created throughout lockdown, alongside an upcoming networking event for teachers and creative practitioners in Stoke-on-Trent.

Inspiring Creative Education – Saturday 7th November, 9:30-4:30pm

This is a networking opportunity for teachers and creative practitioners working in the Stoke-on-Trent area. It’s suitable for anyone interested in inspiring creative education and will be full of interesting workshops and discussions. This will be an online event, more details and how to book a place can be found here.

Loving Learning Through Creativity – online resources

Love Learning through Creativity artists created YouTube videos throughout lockdown that are still available online and are a brilliant resource of things to do and stories to listen to. These videos are still available to watch and are free for all.

All videos are available to access here.

Creative Youth Voices – activity pack

One of the Loving Learning Through Creativity artists, Kirsty Cotton of Kreative Foundations created an activity pack that runs alongside the LLTC videos, it’s a downloadable resource to help young people to access cultural and artistic experiences.

The link can be found here.

Our Future Hopes – video

Over the summer Partners in Creative Learning worked with a group of young activists and artists supported by the Kwanzaa Collective and created a short film called Our Future Hopes, this video platforms a diverse range of voices from across the city communicating and sharing positive messages.

The video and some additional creative resources can be found here.

Stoke Speaks Out Website Launch

Stoke Speaks out have launched their brand new website which we were able to support through our Speech & Language project, ‘Closing the Word Gap’.

The website features advice and activities on speech, language and communication for children under five. They also provide resources for both parents, carers and professionals working with young children

Find out more about their new website here.