Gold Nursery Case Study:

Mandale Mill Primary School, Thornaby, England

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Mandale Mill Primary School, Thornaby, North East of England, received funding towards participation in the Rights Respecting Schools Award from the Rugby League World Cup. The funding provided free training and half price Gold accreditation.

Through embedding the principles and practices of the UK Committee for UNICEF’s (UNICEF UK) Rights Respecting Schools Award (RRSA), Mandale has undergone a transformative journey that has impacted on educational outcomes for children, staff development and community relations.

In 2017, the school received a ‘Requires Improvement’ judgement following an Ofsted inspection. Fast forward to 2020, and Mandale has now received a Gold: Rights Respecting Award – the first school in Thornaby to do so – as well as receiving a judgement of ‘Good’ in all areas, after another Ofsted inspection.

RRSA Lead and teacher, Katie Blenkiron, spoke to us about the work the school has done and the impact that it has made for children. Katie has been with Mandale Mill for five years and has been the RRSA Lead throughout that time.

What has been the impact of becoming a Gold: Rights Respecting School for Mandale Mill?

Katie: In 2017, not long after reaching Silver, we received a ‘Requires Improvement’ judgement from Ofsted. We made the decision that every change we made in every aspect of school, from the curriculum to leadership, would be underpinned by children’s rights.
Our ethos as a school is very child-centred, and we always research school initiatives before introducing them, so it made sense to underpin our improvement work with Rights Respecting Schools. We wanted to be the best version of ourselves and we knew our children deserved to attend a school that had achieved Gold.

We then had another Ofsted inspection in February 2020, just before the first Covid lockdown, three years after the first inspection. Our Gold accreditation was booked for soon after. At Gold, you really see a huge difference for your school and your children and the further work we had done on Rights Respecting Schools shone through in that second Ofsted judgement.
When we did eventually get our Gold assessment (the school’s initial Gold assessment visit was cancelled due to the first national lockdown), it was a perfect opportunity to be able to articulate our journey. Our school values are all underpinned by children’s rights and I would say that is the biggest day-to-day impact we have noticed since working towards and earning our Gold accreditation.

What has been the difference for Mandale Mill between Silver and Gold?

Katie: Moving towards Gold gave the work we were doing on children’s rights more momentum. We felt more confident in what we were doing, and we could see we were genuinely making a difference to our children. In addition, we were receiving a great response from the wider community and the framework of Rights Respecting Schools gave us the tools to do the work we wanted to do.

At Gold, you really see a huge difference for your school and your children and the further work we had done on Rights Respecting Schools shone through in that second Ofsted judgement.
Katie Blenkiron, RRSA Lead

What challenges have you faced in putting the Award in place in your setting and how did you overcome them?

Katie: Covid has obviously been the biggest challenge we have faced during our journey and the pandemic began just as we were about to be accredited. Our visit was booked for the Thursday after schools closed and the country went into the first lockdown, in March 2020, We had completed so much work to get to this stage and to receive the email to say UNICEF UK could not come into schools and our visit was being postponed was incredibly disappointing. But having said that, Rights Respecting Schools and wellbeing was a huge part of our recovery programme, and the work that had been completed meant the recovery plan was more straightforward as we had a clear vision.

Another challenge that we have faced has been the demographics of our community. Our school is located in an area of deprivation and that has steadily declined during the pandemic due to job losses and zero hours contracts – and our journey as a school has been impacted by that. Having said that, by the second lockdown, as well as an increase in the number of vulnerable children we were supporting, we also saw an increase in the amount of children we were providing places for under Key Worker status, so there is a real changing demographic of the community surrounding Mandale Mill Primary School.

Changing the mindset of some teachers and other staff members and developing a consistent staff approach has been difficult because Bronze and Silver is a very different level from Gold. We are asking staff to underpin and change their way of thinking, and changing people’s mindsets is no easy feat and does not happen overnight. As we made progress towards Gold, however, and staff began to see the benefits of their hard work, their mindsets shifted and our whole-school team became firmly on board.

A further challenge that we experienced was getting parents on board. When Ofsted inspected us in 2017, parents refused to talk to the inspectors. The anticipation of those conversations was too overwhelming and scary for the majority of our parents. But by the time we had the visit in 2020, those relationships with parents had been strengthened to the point that we had parents hammering on the door to tell the inspectors how fabulous it had been!

When we had the Silver visit, we had the parents and carers panel and because community relations at the time needed improvement, I was struggling to get people in. I felt it might stop us getting Silver. Kathy, our RRSA Professional Advisor, really helped us work on that.

We now have two full time Parent Support Advisors (PSA) and they are a face for parents to have school communications with. They support parents with anything practical; they are able to signpost parents towards various agencies and opportunities that they might otherwise not have been aware of and they also provide a shoulder to cry on, if required. . Our second PSA was employed between the Silver and Gold accreditation.

We have a school Facebook page which is one of the biggest things we have done to engage with parents. We launched in April 2020 and there are five staff members on the team looking after the page. It has been instrumental during lockdown. Sending letters isn’t always accessible for all and Facebook has a translate feature so it is a great tool for us.

As a school, we have done a lot of work on attendance. Covid impacted a lot on that work but prior to Covid, we were contacting parents at every opportunity. An example of this is in our Early Years, where we invite parents and carers in regularly to initiatives such as our ‘Stay and Read’ programme. It was a case of showing parents that we are not scary people who are only speaking to you if your child has made the wrong choice that day. We all want the best for their children.

We have done a lot for the local community too. We sent hot chocolate and marshmallows in the cold weather to everyone to just say that we are here. All those little things make a difference and you don’t realise the impact they all have until you add them up together.

What advice would you give to other school settings working towards Award?

Katie: Whatever that wildest dream is, just do it. It worked for us! Some teachers hate change – I hate change! – but throwing yourself at it and running with it is the way to go.

The way we were doing things was not working in the best way for our children, so we went with our gut and threw everything at Rights Respecting Schools. We are all professionals and got into this career to improve children’s lives, so we took that risk and it worked!

The way we were doing things was not working in the best way for our children, so we went with our gut and threw everything at Rights Respecting Schools. We are all professionals and got into this career to improve children’s lives, so we took that risk and it worked!
Katie Blenkiron, RRSA Lead

What difference is made for children by Mandale Mill being a Rights Respecting School?

Katie: I think probably the main thing we get most feedback on is the way that children can now articulate their thoughts and opinions. We had children who could not articulate their thoughts or beliefs about what was right or wrong and Rights Respecting Schools gave us that initial toolkit and that common language to be able to discuss quite complex issues – that is the biggest difference.

It was recognised in our Ofsted inspection in 2020 that our children showed an awareness of what equality and fairness means. For example, we have had children explaining how regulation walks are typical for some of their classmates, because it’s what they need to learn effectively, but they don’t need to go on them because it isn’t what they ‘need’ – and how that isn’t unfair, but it’s actually fair, as we provide what each individual child needs. Then the child comparing that to someone who needs glasses to see or a coloured overlay to read: having seven-year-old children having that conversation with you is so powerful.

During the Gold assessment, children were challenged and asked, “What do you mean that fair does not mean the same?” Children could confidently justify their responses, which is a huge shift from the children who could not articulate themselves very well at all at the beginning of our journey. It shows that our children are aware of themselves and the people around them.

I felt overwhelmed about the idea of doing campaigns as part of the Gold work, but the children had the idea, during a steering group session, of working with the local foodbank as some of them had used that service before. We looked at a book called ‘No Money Day’ and when you can observe children under 11 years of age being able to generate ideas about how to make the world a better place – that is an amazing thing.

What has been your proudest achievement in putting children’s rights into practice at Mandale Mill?

Katie: Achieving the Gold standard is amazing and I will always remember the feeling when we received the email to say we were officially a Gold school. We are the first school in Thornaby to have Gold and we display our banner with pride!

The main thing for me though is having children who are genuinely happy and want to be in school because of the work that has done. That’s priceless.

What advice would you give to other schools working towards Gold?

Katie: It was great that we got to use Rugby League World Cup funding – budgets are tight, we all know that. It’s available for schools in the North East of England and Yorkshire, so make the most of it.

Rights Respecting Schools is a big journey and a big undertaking. Perseverance is needed; you cannot expect it to be done quickly. When we sent off our Gold evidence, it was clear to us just how much we had done in those three years between Silver and Gold. You do not realise when you are in the midst of it, so the accreditation visit is good because it makes you reflect on those tiny successes.

Life moves so fast, but Rights Respecting Schools makes you pause and take stock of what you have achieved for your children. I always encourage people to do RRSA. Funnily enough, I never felt like that prior to starting on the journey, as I assumed it would be ‘another job to tick off’ but it absolutely isn’t – and the benefits for the school, community and children are incredible.

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