An inspirational programme designed to improve the achievements of children in Hastings has been heralded as a success after its first year.
Hastings Thrives was introduced to bring positivity and happiness into the lives of school children across the town to raise attainment and aspirations for some of the most deprived kids in the UK.
The scheme came about after the education watchdog Ofsted identified Hastings as an area for improvement and encouraged the schools to ‘do something different’.
The past year has seen the various academy trusts working together to implement sometimes radical new educational projects as well as organising a song contest and a celebratory parade.
Silverdale Primary Academy head teacher Liz Miles said she has seen a real difference in the attitude of the school children and believes Thrives is making a real difference.
“We have a child in year six who was struggling but now her mum is saying she’s enjoying school and looks forward to going to lessons because of Thrive,” she said.
“And I’ve spoken to parents who are saying their child is now the child they were supposed to be because of Thrive, which is amazing to hear.”
Around 12 months ago, Ofsted selected Hastings as one of two areas in the south east for a special focus on improving the achievements of school children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Hastings is ranked as the 13th most deprived town in the country and Ofsted believed something needed to be done to tackle the town’s low-performing pupils.
One of Ofsted’s regional inspectors Alan Taylor Bennett helped draw up an action plan for the project he described as ‘exciting and potentially highly influential’.
With several different academy trusts responsible for more than 20 schools, co-operation was no easy feat but Ms Miles hailed the head teachers for making it happen.
“The really amazing thing is that all these schools came together and saw this as an opportunity for Hastings which is quite unique,” she said.
“It’s an opportunity, it’s an amazing chance for the town. The only thing uniting the schools is the challenge and Ofsted.
“I don’t think it’s been straightforward but it’s happened because of the determination of the heads.
“The heads chose to see this as an opportunity, to say, ‘let’s show them what we can do’.”
Out of their co-operation came Hastings Thrives – an all-encompassing project bringing together schools, parents, businesses and the wider community to tackle inequality and poor achievement.
The two showpiece events of the programme were the Hastings Thrives Song Contest in May and the Sky Parade last month, both celebrating the town’s children and spreading positivity.
Every school wrote their own song for the competition which were pitted against each other at the White Rock Theatre to decide which song would be sung at the parade – Westfield Primary School won with their tune called Hastings Seaside Celebration.
Ms Miles said there was an amazing atmosphere and all the kids did brilliantly.
“I remember afterwards St Leonards Academy students were already thinking about next year and saying they were going to win it, which gave me a real sense of the character of Hastings and that’s one of the things I loved about it,” she said.
The Sky Parade on June 10, was a chance for all the school children of Hastings to parade along the seafront before a celebratory event at the pier with the mayor and MP.
But the real work is behind the scenes. Many educational initiatives including maths and reading workshops have come out of the programme but the main focus has been pupils’ behaviour and wellbeing.
Pupils have been working with ‘happiness doctor’ Andy Cope to design lessons on how to be positive, resilient and determined, which the children then teach to other students across the town.
Badges with different ninjas representing each quality – resilient, determined, courageous, inspirational, ambitious, dynamic, ultimate – are targets for pupils to achieve with a variety of actions needed to get each one.
Such as a ‘random act of kindness’ which the Silverdale pupils did the day before the Sky Parade by handing out yellow roses and leaflets for the event to people in the town centre.
“What we saw the day before the festival was a massive response from past year and showed this isn’t a one off, this is something we need to do more of,” Ms Miles said.
“The change in the children was just amazing, it was so positive all round.”
Thrives is not just about children as parents are also being supported and encouraged to continue the positivity at home.
Ms Miles thinks if Hastings Thrives works then the town could be used as a model for other failing areas, as well as helping to involve other sectors such as business and higher education to broaden its reach.
The head teacher said the programme is looking at the whole picture and believes the entire community has a moral responsibility to look after its children, and Thrives is enabling that.
“We need to think how we can make Hastings the town of choice,” she said,
“And what Hastings Thrives has really brought to light is that this community has such a heart, especially for its children.
“It’s like nowhere else, they want to unite and come together in a positive, supportive way. And why wouldn’t you want that?”
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