School visits are a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the difference that SHS Practitioners make to the lives of many of the most vulnerable families in a school. We are holding these regularly to help people see first-hand the importance of this work.
This Spring term, we held our first in a series of school visits designed to share the work of SHS more widely, at Montem Primary School in Islington. We met outside the ‘School-Home Support’ house, a comfortable room with soft sofas and a smattering of children’s drawings on the walls, located to the side of the playground. This room is designed to be open enough to be visible to parents and children but at the same time, private enough to feel like a safe space. Parents feeling embarrassed or scared to seek help need not even go through the school reception to access support.
We were greeted enthusiastically by two seven year old girls who regularly visit the SHS room, who ensured we were well fed with croissants and boldly told us all about their experiences at school.
After this, we heard from Nick, the Headteacher at Montem. He spoke about the disparities in the borough of Islington. Most of the pupils at the school live in a nearby housing estate and would never be found drinking cappuccinos in the ‘posh’ cafes up the road. Families at Montem need lots of support in order for their pupils to get the most out of their education, which is one of the school’s top priorities. Nick explained how the leadership team had been providing more and more family support before SHS got involved – taking precious time away from being able to focus on education and attainment.
Nick explained proudly how having Catherine for four days a week at Montem means that families can access the support they need. It was startling to hear the impact this has had on their attendance rates. They were really struggling before. Nick described them as initially having one of the worst attendance rates in Islington, one of the worst boroughs for attendance at the time – “If there were a league table, Montem would have been right at the bottom”. This has been drastically improved – from 92 to 96%! They are now above average in Islington, which is no longer one of the worst boroughs for attendance.
Catherine then introduced us to some of the families she has helped. We heard from a single dad, Tony*, who took responsibility for his four year old twins when his ex-partner went into a coma. This was really tough on the whole family, with the kids visiting their Mum on a weekly basis as she was still unwell. Catherine worked intensively with him to improve his parenting skills, applied for a new fridge through the SHS Welfare Fund and facilitated them going away for a short break to a holiday park. We heard how Tony was signposted to services in the community that could help him get his own business up and running, and also to the counselling services within the school for his daughter who was struggling with the impact of the circumstances with her mother. These made a big impact and helped him cope with his difficult situation.
We met Tony’s adorable children, now aged six, who explained how they loved it when they went away and got to go swimming! Catherine’s support for the twins has made a big difference to their ability to engage with school and their learning.
We then heard from a mum of three, Esther*, who had been struggling – her English had been poor and she had low confidence. Catherine saw that they were struggling to lead a healthy lifestyle. In particular, her eldest son was overweight, which was stopping him participating fully in school life due to bullying and low self-esteem. He was referred to CCHF, a short activity break for children to helping them build confidence and make friends. Catherine supported the family in creating a healthier diet and exercise routine. She signed Esther up to a parenting course held at the school and supported her to improve her English. Back in the SHS room, Esther’s youngest son was bounding round the room enthusiastically, whilst his brother showed off the drawings he makes in the SHS room, such as the very accurate ‘wooly mammoth’ (not an elephant!), and told us about his favourite dinosaur.
It was clear that the support Catherine provides for children and families at Montem means that the children can be in school and live more carefree, happy lives. This has a huge impact on their ability to concentrate at school and learn.
Thank you very much to everyone at Montem for hosting us, it was so valuable to see first-hand the essential support you provide for children and families.
We will be hosting another visit at a different school in June. To register your interest for these, please email Laura.Solomons@SHS.org.uk.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.