Staff and children were very pleased to welcome Sam and Simon from NSN on Friday. They spent the day with us, taking film footage and chatting to everyone in order to make a short promotional film for their website.

Young book lovers carry out Blue Peter judging duties in Darlington schools

WELL-READ: Students from Marchbank Free School, Darlington, cast their votes to find the winner of the Blue Peter Book Awards 2017. Mya Louise Sales, ten, votes alongside Jay Brown, 11. Picture: IAN LAMMING

FACT and fiction fans from across Darlington have delivered on their judging duties after being chosen to cast their votes for a Blue Peter competition.

Young bookworms turned literary critics from The Education Village Academy Trust were selected as one of only a dozen schools nationally having their say on their favourite book of 2017. More than 50 pupils aged ten and 11 from Marchbank Free School, Springfield Academy and Gurney Pease Academy enjoyed a ballot party to name their top reads for the year for the annual Blue Peter Book Awards.



Permanent Secretary for the Department for Education Jonathan Slater  visit to Marchbank Free School

Marchbank Fee School                                                   


Permanent Secretary for Education, Jonathan Slater, and Director General at the DfE, Andrew McCully visit Marchbank Free School

STAFF and children at a Darlington school have hosted a senior minister to help him learn more about education for youngsters with special needs.

Jonathan Slater was just a few days into his job as Permanent Secretary for the Department for Education when he visited Marchbank Free School on a fact-finding mission.

The free school, which is part of the Darlington-based Education Village Academy Trust, opened in 2013 with 16 primary age children, many of whom have been excluded from mainstream schools and have social, emotional or mental health difficulties. The school now takes 43 children.

Principal Mandy Southwick told the visitors: "We believe we are a mainstream school with special children, and certainly we are measured in the same way. Our children aren't expected to make any less progress than those in mainstream schools.

"Many of our children have missed or had disrupted education before they come to us. The longer they are here, the better the opportunity they have to catch up with their education.

"We aim to give them as many tools as we can so they can go on to succeed in secondary school."

Members of the school council spoke to Mr Slater about life at Marchbank before he and Andrew McCully, a Director General at the DfE, and Trust Chair of the Board Jim O'Neill visited each of the classes where they saw children learning about Mars, making information booklets about dinosaurs and writing up arguments for and against zoos.

After sitting in on an assembly in which the children received 'shout out' rewards from their friends and certificates from staff, Mr Slater said: "It's been very interesting to see the emphasis here on rewarding children for good behaviour rather than focusing on the negative and the importance of relationships in making them feel safe and cared for.

"It was very moving to watch children who have been excluded from mainstream schools sitting quietly, listening, putting their hands up and answering questions politely. To see that in any school is good but to see it here was rather wonderful. Whatever they are doing here must work."

Mr Slater said he was keen to see different approaches to education in different areas.

He added: "The point of the DfE is to help schools do the best they can. It's important for me to see what goes on in individual schools so that when I am back in the department I can ask 'will this decision we are taking make the lives of the people here easier or harder?'."

Chief Executive of the Education Village Academy Trust Mike Butler said the demand for special education in the area meant the trust was seeking to expand provision and considering submitting an application for a second free school.