This blog was written by Emily Elmer, Farlingaye High School, as part of her involvement in SSAT’s Leadership Legacy Project (LLP).
This document is a reflective blog of how I am trying to create a supportive and empathetic community at Farlingaye High School. This is because when students leave our community, they will take these qualities with them and help others.
Stepping into this course was daunting; I was in my fourth year of teaching and had just become head of department. Personally, I had never thought that I would step into leadership so soon, so for the latter to happen and to then be part of this project was certainly overwhelming. Imposter syndrome was making a huge appearance. Yet, as I listened to our mentor advising us to look into the work of Simon Sinek, and find the ‘why’, I thought about what my ‘why’ was for getting into teaching. It was not to assess data, but to help. In my application for the Leadership Legacy Project, I wrote that as a leader I want to create a community which allows my students to become empathetic, supportive and kind individuals. That way by the time they leave Farlingaye, they will take these invaluable qualities with them in life. Having worked for a Down Syndrome charity and witnessing the barriers they have to face in their daily lives, this perspective for leadership was not a surprise to me. This was further emphasised by the wise words of guest speaker Ani Magill at the launch conference for LLP. With Suella Braverman’s haunting Rwanda plan having just been announced, Ani Magill highlighted the lack of positive leadership our students have in society. Thus, we, as teachers, need to be those inspiring leaders and role models. Sue Williamson’s SSAT’s article on Deep Support highlighted that although all students need support, some need it more than others. I realised that I wanted to create something which would show our students how to positively contribute to society.
At first, I thought about reaching out to the local community, however after seeking the advice of various colleagues, my alternative safeguarding lead emailed me regarding the school’s vulnerable community. During our meeting I was overwhelmed to hear how badly families of Farlingaye were struggling in the current cost of living crisis. Not simply struggling to get by, but physically not having enough money to house, feed and keep their children clean. At that moment in time, the safeguarding team were reaching out to a charity ten miles away in Ipswich, or supplying from their own pocket; clearly not a sustainable solution. It was here that the idea of our welfare packages blossomed; Farlingaye’ s own food, toiletry and clothing bank. Although some may argue that this is not a job for schools, how can I or my colleagues expect our students to learn, if they don’t have a stable home or are lethargic from hunger? Now, although we can’t find a solution to this, we can offer meaningful support and if we do it in the right way, it can become part of what could be a very special community, rather than a short-term fix.
Many of the vulnerable families that would be supported by our welfare packages would be eligible for Free School Meals (FSM). Which, consequently, would suggest that they will be guaranteed a good meal once a day. However, on closer inspection, the amount provided is nowhere near enough. The daily amount provided is £2.41. At Farlingaye this does not cover the lunchtime meal deal of a dinner, desert and drink. If they want a break time snack, this will take over a third of their daily allowance. This funding from the government, although is desperately wanted, is not enough. Therefore, our vulnerable students are more than likely to be hungry throughout their school day.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s annual poverty report highlighted that there are 3.9 million children living in poverty in the UK. Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, responded that the research shows that poverty directly impacts a child’s education and then the rest of their life.
Another layer of pressure facing parents and carers, is the change in the payment of Universal Credit. From being a weekly payment, which supports those who struggle to manage money, it has been switched to monthly. Charities like the Salvation Army have found that many people are falling into debt and towards food banks as a result of this change. A Salvation Army spokesperson, said:
“Many people rely on food banks because they have been pushed into debt following the five weeks wait for Universal Credit payments… We are seeing unprecedented demand at our food banks where the debilitating effects of poverty on people and families are witnessed on a daily basis.”
Although, this is clearly an issue of government funding which is out of my control, I could create a culture whereby Farlingaye’ s community can support each other.
On researching the importance of school community and how to get parental engagement, I read Bill Lucas’ article on engaging parents. He found that parents will engage if it is meaningful and it promotes a culture which will endorse pro-social behaviours. Therefore, by creating these packages with that clear focus on promoting a sympathetic community where we support one another, the Farlingaye community would be more willing to engage.
Furthermore, the fifth principle of the SSAT’s Children’s Charter, declares that schools need to build a sense of belonging and community to allow children to flourish into empathetic and compassionate adults. This charter was created to support young children in this changing world. My Welfare Packages absolutely address this.
To help this project, I got the invaluable support of the sixth form charity committee. They agreed to sort and process donations and then create the packages themselves, which the safeguarding team could then deliver to the families.
I sourced a cupboard space from our caretakers where we could store the donations and then liaised with both them and the reception team about the logistics of donations, hopefully, pouring in.
With the logistics seemingly prepared, I made my first contact with parents and carers introducing them to the welfare packages, the meaning behind them and what donations are needed.
As the project continued, I then sent further letters home requesting donations. The requests were driven by the families themselves to ensure we were providing donations which were meaningful and useful.
I also took the opportunity to further promote the welfare packages to parents, at the school’s ‘Minifest’; Farlingaye’ s very own music festival where school bands perform and parents can come watch. Various charities were invited to promote their cause during the evening, which allowed me to reach out to parents on a face-to-face level. That evening, taught me the importance of this as it allowed me to get my passion for these packages across, which cannot always be done through letters. This has encouraged me to promote the packages in person in the future.
The impact at a school level
To gauge the impact at school, I chose to focus on the year 7 cohort. I felt, as the newest year to Farlingaye’s community, it would be far easier to see the long-term impact of the welfare packages on the Farlingaye community. I wanted to see their perception of pro-social behaviours and the impact of the welfare packages on these in the long run. As this is clearly a long-term project, gathering data to see the true impact of the welfare packages will not be in time for this think piece. However, the process up until now will be able to influence how I go forward with it. I created a simple questionnaire.
Sadly, we didn’t have as many responses as I hoped. Yet, what can be seen from the data, is that yes, students would be proud to know Farlingaye helps those in need. So, I felt that that was something to grasp on to. By making this clearer to them, it should have a greater impact on their idea of Farlingaye’s community and the importance of supporting others.
The impact on a parental level
Now although my awareness of the impact of students is lacking, my awareness of the parental impact has been far more powerful. This is not at all surprising given that the letter was sent directly to them. The responses which I have had and continue to receive have been incredibly generous and heart-warming. I have received emails from parents both on a personal and business level, wanting to support the welfare packages be it financially or through various donations.
Along with these have been multiple donations to the school by parents. All of the support and enthusiasm from parents cements Bill Lucas’ argument that parents will be a supportive member of the community when they feel that it is meaningful and is championing the mindset of supporting others in need.
The impact on the wider community
Along with the parental support, I have also received support from Suffolk County Council, as can be seen via the email below. 50 ‘hygiene packs’ assorted for males and females were generously donated.
I have received homemade blankets from Project Linus UK, a charity which provides blankets to children in need.
I also received a donation of kitchen cleaning products from an anonymous charity.
The long-term impact of the welfare packages
This response absolutely highlights to me that Farlingaye has a wonderfully supportive community who want to help. Yet, sadly community links have been damaged by Covid. From a revolving door of parents and members of the local community coming into Farlingaye, there has been very little engagement during my three years at Farlingaye. During a meeting with a school governor, it become apparent that the link between parents and the school is vital in creating a sense of belonging for the students.
However, what my project is showing is that the parents are a willing and active part of Farlingaye’s community.. They do want to support its families in need and they do value what the staff at Farlingaye do. By creating these packages, I feel that I am building something which will become part of Farlingaye life and not merely a tick box activity. These packages are making a difference to our whole community.
I was invited by my headteacher to present my project at one of their leadership meetings. I presented what I have illustrated above and received an overwhelming amount of support. They all saw and recognised the value of the welfare packages, with some having directly seen what the packages have meant to our families. They want my project to be an embedded part of Farlingaye High School and with their guidance, the future steps for the welfare packages are:
Promoting to Farlingaye’ s community
- Leadership team will make prospective families aware during their presentation at year 6 Open Evening.
- I will lead an assembly to year 7 this summer to highlight the importance of pro-social behaviours.
- I will lead assemblies with the new year 7 cohort within the first weeks to raise their awareness.
- Contact the heads of year for support in identifying families who would benefit from these packages, as the safeguarding team is not aware of all of them.
- Work with the administration team to promote the welfare packages on the school website.
Funding and promoting to the wider community
- Since writing this think piece, my storage has been taken away as it was only temporary. I currently fund storage and am in need of support. I am going to write an article for the school’s forum about the welfare packages and how well the project has gone. In this I will explain that we are looking for sponsorship by a local company in order to purchase storage and packaging.
- To promote the above I will reach out to local press, with the support of leadership.
- I will email local county councillors and current contacts in East Suffolk council to raise awareness and see if there is any funding the project is entitled to.
Redesigning Schooling – 6, Engaging parents: why and how, SSAT, Bill Lucas, November 2013
Deep Support for Social Justice, SSAT, Sue Williamson
ASCL comment on JRF annual poverty report, https://www.ascl.org.uk/News/Our-news-and-press-releases/ASCL-comment-on-JRF-annual-poverty-report
Department of Education, Free School Meals legibility https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/school-pupils-and-their-characteristics
Children’s Charter, SSAT