Almost four decades of specialist learning

Richard Jones, Headteacher of Collingwood School at Morpeth Rotary for his talk. On his right is Rotarian Martyn Jenkins a retired Assistant Director of Education at Northumberland County Council.
Richard Jones, Headteacher of Collingwood School at Morpeth Rotary for his talk. On his right is Rotarian Martyn Jenkins a retired Assistant Director of Education at Northumberland County Council.

Morpeth Rotary Club

When Morpeth Rotary President Bob Kendall took office in July he announced his plans for the year ahead.

High on his list was a project to help Collingwood School with its project to improve healthy living. The club invited Headteacher Richard Jones to update members on what had been happening since he last spoke to them ten years ago.

The school opened in 1979 with 44 students and 12 staff. It was for five to 16-year-old students with mild learning difficulties, and has always shared a site with Stobhillgate First School.

Richard came to the school from St Benet Biscop High School more than 30 years ago as a design technology teacher and has been Headteacher for more than nine years. He started work at a shipyard in Sunderland and trained through City and Guilds and a Higher National Diploma, before completing a Post Graduate Certificate in Education.

The full title of the school is now Collingwood School and Media Arts College. It runs special courses on film, animation, photography, green screen and sound, as well as working to the national curriculum. It has 147 students, 15 teachers and 30 support staff.

It takes in students who can have a wide range of learning difficulties, including mental health issues, and who might find it difficult to cope with mainstream schooling because it is too busy, too loud, or the pace of lessons is too intense. There are some students who need to take medication several times a day.

New students are gradually introduced and given time to get to know the place before they start. They take away a welcome DVD, visit, look around and watch what happens, then spend a half-day taking part before arranging to start.

The school has specialist areas for design technology, arts, science, media and life skills. It has a swimming pool, sensory room, ‘time out’ room, a room where one student can work with one member of staff, and a therapy room.

There is support to stimulate students to take part, with extra counselling and occupational therapy. Payment is made to the health authority for speech and language assistants to come in each week, and for the first time it has its own school counsellor.

Life skills work includes the use of washing machines and microwaves, learning to buy things, giving the right change and generally preparing students to operate in the modern world.

The sixth form has been running for five years with good help from King Edward VI High School.

Extra space has been created using high standard ‘learning lodges’. Working to the ideal of providing the best possible learning spaces, any damage to buildings and equipment is quickly repaired and play areas are kept safe at all times.

There used to be one yard and one field for all ages, but that was not appropriate and there have been many improvements. There is now a cycle track around the school, a running club, walking club where students can do a daily mile, and a mud-free artificial lawn.

The school has a carefully thought out Mission Statement, which has been in place for 15 years, along with nine common values.

It has good contacts with parents and the community and takes part in many events. It is part of Morpeth in Bloom and growing things is an important part of school life.

It has links with Marks and Spencer and an enterprise project at Coca Cola Abbeywell, and there are regular visits to Morpeth leisure centre, the Pegasus Centre at Tranwell, Kirkley Hall College and to Newcastle.

Pupils perform plays by Shakespeare and took Romeo and Juliet on the road. They also took part in a 1066 battle re-enactment. There is international travel, with visits to Denmark, Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic.

Students are identified by the local authority and put forward if it is thought the school can meet their needs. Every student has an Education, Health and Care Plan.

The school is full, but is still getting around ten referrals every week. There are 14 classes and curriculum pathways, and it can provide for students who need different learning approaches. It is possible to arrange for a student to have the same teacher all of the time. Other students can be stretched with more pace and using specialist teachers for art, science and design technology.

There is a good track record of helping a return to mainstream schooling where that is the best way ahead.

There are good outcomes for students when they leave. One took up an apprenticeship at Tranwell; one began a career in IT and electronic communications; another learned to drive and is running her own dog walking business; some achieve GCSEs and go on to courses at college; others will only be able to move on where additional care and support is provided.

Collingwood has a great family atmosphere. As in any family there are fall-outs, but everyone comes together and supports each other.

Promoting a healthy lifestyle is important and the aim is to improve the school grounds with a multi-gym. Each piece of equipment costs around £1,000.

Since the talk there has been Rotary fund-raising dinner and entertainment at Lollo Rosso with 110 guests. It was a fun evening where Rotarians, friends and staff raised more than £1,100, including a contribution from Rotary International in Britain and Ireland.