Opportunity areas across Yorkshire have spoken out about increased educational pressures

Across Yorkshire opportunity areas, vital initiatives have been improving the lives and creating opportunities for the most vulnerable and deprived children, as part of the pioneering education scheme to raise standards and improve the worst of the education inequalities in the region. Ruth Dacey reports.

Innovative projects, including those that have had to adapt due to the coronavirus pandemic, have spoken out about educational successes and challenges facing communities as improvements made over the past four years are in jeopardy under the shadow of Covid-19.

In Bradford, for mother-of-three Kirsty Ware, who has home-schooled her children through the pandemic, including an eldest son diagnosed with learning difficulties, on top of financial difficulties, said an adapted community education initiative aptly named ‘lessons on wheels,’ has been a “life-line” during difficult times.

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Read the full special Yorkshire Post education report here.The 35-year-old is one of more than 100 families with 280 children up to the age of 16, who have received an essential education and food pack delivered to their homes fortnightly, by Ravenscliffe Community Association based at The Gateway Centre, during lockdown.

Pictured, teacher Joanne Cassell-Osowski at the top of Blue Bank near Sleights where she now lives with a backdrop of Whitby where she has relocated to fro Barnsley, as part of a teacher recruitment by the North Yorkshire Coast opportunity area. Photo credit: Gary Longbottom/ JPIMediaResell

The packs were designed to help bridge the gap between school attendance to reduce learning loss throughout the year of young families in one of the most deprived areas of the city.

Her son’s learning difficulties, while having limited access to digital devices and financial worries has made homeschooling a difficult task.

The stay-at-home mum and her young family have relied on meals provided through the initiative, essentials from the local food bank and Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit as they have been stretched financially during the coronavirus outbreak.

She told The Yorkshire Post: “It’s been quite difficult having them all at home. Financially it’s been a challenge just to have enough money to last the week and manage to have the food in for the children.”

'Lessons on Wheels' is an initiative set-up in Bradford, helping children catch-up and supporting those struggling during the coronavirus. Pictured organisation leader Natalie Woodley delivering a bag to Kirsty Ware and her daughter Millie Sartin. Picture credit: Jonathan Gawthorpe/ JPI Media Resell

Miss Ware said being able to receive the ‘lessons on wheel’ packs, which have an emphasis on maths, english and science, was essential to aid with homeschooling her children Billy, five, and Millie, eight, who were unable to attend Holybrook Primary School alongside Harley, 10, a Our Lady and St Brendans Catholic Primary School student. The family also only had access to one family laptop up until the last day before the end of the summer term when her daughter and eldest son received laptops from their schools.

“One laptop between three children was so hard at first, but we managed to work it out as best we could,” Miss Ware said. “It has been a challenge especially as my oldest child has learning difficulties, so that needs extra time going over the work and tasks and I’ve gone to bed on many evenings thinking how does a teacher do this?”

She added: “But things would have been a lot worse for us as a family without this support.

“The materials, activities and food have been really good. I would consider us to be in a lucky postcode in a way to receive this.”

'Lessons on Wheels' is an initiative set-up in Bradford, helping children catch-up and supporting those struggling during the coronavirus. Pictured organisation leader Natalie Woodley, right, packs bags with Gloria Heilbron and Carol Woodley. Jonathan Gawthorpe / JPI Media Resell

Currently the scheme, rolled out by the Bradford Parent and Young People’s Partnership Service with extra funding from the city’s opportunity area can only be accessed by residents who live in Ravenscliff, due to capacity and resources.

Natalie Woodley, 30, who leads on the programme stressed the need to expand the initiative due to the high demand, and high rates of deprivation within the city and pockets across the region which have been brought to the fore by the coronavirus.

“There is a greater need. Unfortunately we’ve had to turn some families away,” she said.

“We have been inundated from the beginning, our phones were ringing off the hook from people.

Chair for the Bradfordford opportunity area, Anne-Marie Canning, photo credit: Bradford opportunity area.

“So many families have really struggled over this time, if we hadn’t have provided the food some families would have gone hungry. Many have been very stretched with the universal credit, it has had a backlash on a lot of our parents.”

She said a “holistic community approach” needed to be implemented in deprived areas across Yorkshire to boost the level of good education enjoyed by children living in the capital and the South.

Ms Woodley said: “This project is just a drop in the ocean. We want to be able to expand our team so we can reach more people in need.

“We are calling for a community joined up approach - there needs to be the drive for a holistic programme as it goes far beyond education and beyond the school gates.”

Anne-Marie Canning, the chair for the Bradfordford opportunity area, added: “The digital divide has been very pronounced in communities and children not having access to those materials, digital devices and connections needed to do their homework.

“Being able to deliver ‘lessons on wheels’, and drop off meals, lesson plans, and materials like paper and pencils has been essential.”

Pictured, teacher Joanne Cassell-Osowski at the top of Blue Bank near Sleights where she now lives with a backdrop of Whitby where she has relocated to from Barnsley, photo credit: Gary Longbottom/ JPIMediaResell

Historically educational establishments at seaside outposts have faced a host of problems, including staff recruitment and retention, however fond childhood seaside memories from the North Yorkshire Coast and the financial incentives were a big enough draw to make Joanne Cassell-Osowski relocate from Barnsley to Whitby recently.

Ms Cassell-Osowski, 40, who moved to Sleights at the beginning of this month with her partner Stefan Osowski, 42, will take up her assistant director of science post at Caedmon College, a mixed secondary school and sixth form in Whitby, this September. There has been much debate in recent years over future provision for Whitby’s Caedmon College and Eskdale School and with formal consultations launched by governors in 2018. Now, in the wake of support for proposals, the two federated last year, creating a new sixth form while maintaining two sites, separate headteachers, budgets and staff.

Ms Cassell-Osowski is one of 24 teachers recruited from outside the area as part of the North Yorkshire opportunity area recruitment campaign over the last three years.

The teacher, who grew up in Worsbrough amidst the pit closures and mining strikes and was the first in her family to go to university, has taught across Yorkshire including schools in Dewsbury and Barnsley since qualifying in 2003 and received a recruitment and retention bursary of £2000 and a relocation bursary of £8000.

She stressed the need to expand the recruitment campaign across the North to attract more teachers as the drain for years and years on resources for the North has resulted in pupils achieving GCSE grades that are significantly worse than their counterparts in London.

“It’s really important for this kind of thing to be happening all over the North. In industry you have people being given bursaries and it just doesn’t happen within teaching.

“It should be happening far more widespread in order to create opportunities for people to be able to move to areas in the North and take on these roles and make a difference.”

The University of Sheffield graduate added: “The statement leveling-up the North isn’t actually accurate, I think what they need to be doing is boosting the North above what we are at the moment.

“We could do with some reparation for the years and years of underfunding that we’ve had in the North. Education is absolutely key to be able to allow people to move forward with their lives.”

Sir Martin Narey, the chair for the North Yorkshire Coast opportunity area, said: “We’ve had a very focused look at teacher recruitment and retention - addressing the fact that it’s difficult getting teachers here.

“It may be because teachers might fear a bit of professional isolation - but we have brought a lot of new blood in.

“At the beginning of September for the first time in years there were no teacher vacancies in the opportunity area - so that is the biggest success.”

Read the full report here._____________________________

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James Mitchinson