‘Rising strong’ – A Pathway to Recovery and Reconnection
Embark Federation is an Education Charitable Trust that serves 3,000 children and their families. Formed in January 2019, it now works with 9 schools, (soon to become 12) in four different areas across Derbyshire.
The shared vision for the trust is to "create schools that ‘stand out’ at the heart of their communities.” The trust has 4 core beliefs: Family, Integrity, Teamwork and Success that are integral to everything we do.
Early on in the Pandemic during a conversation with the Chair of Trustees Sarah Armitage, a National Leader of Governance, we began to plan ahead and thought of the issues that children and our families would be facing including;
- Families will have experienced bereavement and very often of the worst possible kind with not being able to say goodbye and see relatives before they passed away and funerals taking place with reduced numbers.
- Domestic violence has increased 30% during Covid-19 and will have affected our families.
- Families will have experienced job losses, sometimes including those that haven’t previously been vulnerable.
- Home schooling will have been more successful for some than others.
- How do we keep our Embark Family connected during the Pandemic?
The range of issues meant we had to be ready for a challenging period of re-adjustment both for them and for us. We want all our students to thrive, so to bring our school communities back together around that aim, we fell back on our core beliefs.
Ultimately, as system leaders and a civic trust we want to support as many children and staff as we can and this has enabled us to do so.
Wanting to do something positive to overcome these challenges we enlisted the support of the fabulous Sharon Gray OBE to lead a Recovery and Reconnection Programme which focussed on the social, emotional and mental health needs of children and staff.
Sharon, a headteacher of 20 years and an expert in supporting young people experiencing social, emotional and mental health difficulties, has been instrumental in creating this programme. Working with her and Sarah Armitage, we ensured everyone within Embark was able to contribute openly and freely. We didn’t want to make any assumptions, so through sensitive outreach, school leaders allowed all stakeholders to feel safe in sharing their personal experiences of the pandemic. The result was a detailed picture of the kind of support that was needed for children and for parents, staff, and local communities.
We set up nine teams, each focused on a waypoint on the pathway to recovery, according to their expertise and strengths. That pathway starts with connection to the community, then with looking after our staff. Next comes gathering and circulating information and ensuring everyone is well-resourced. Only then can risk assessments properly inform the creation of safe spaces. That is stage six of nine on our road to recovery.
Anna Upton, the head of Chaucer Junior School, led team six – planning and resourcing the interim recovery curriculum itself, under the theme of "rising strong”. It’s an extensive resource bank of activities that includes social and therapeutic stories, transition ideas, wellbeing support and opportunities for outdoor learning. And while Embark is a mainstream, primary-only trust, the resources are for ages 3 to 18 as well as special schools.
Through this and ongoing work at every stage, we can begin the final steps towards full recovery. Stage seven is about ensuring all stakeholders are supported to heal; stage eight is about taking the positives that have come out from this period and not allowing them to be lost. Stage nine acknowledges that support will need to be ongoing and the trust hopes to use these resources in the future to support schools as only around 10% are Covid specific, the majority can be used in other situations.
We could never have envisaged the success of this programme. It has been shared through Leora Cruddas and CST and we have also linked up with Professor Barry Carpenter, a renowned specialist in this area. We have shared this work with him on Webinars with hundreds of school leaders from across the UK and also the world. We have had messages of thanks from headteachers in Durham and Devon whilst also receiving e-mails from as far flung places as Australia and New Zealand from school leaders that have used the resources.
The DfE and Cabinet Office sponsored articles that featured in every national and local paper as well as featuring on their blog and social media accounts. As a small trust we are very proud that the impact of this work has been felt beyond our trust and it is very much part of our ethos to share with others, as we have benefited from other trusts who share so graciously with us too. Ultimately, as system leaders and a civic trust we want to support as many children and staff as we can and this has enabled us to do so. Our Local Authority in Derbyshire has sent the resources to every school and also contributed to some of the folders and we are very proud to work in partnership with them too.