School focus: Parkwood E-ACT Academy

Parkwood E Act Academy pupils in an art class focusing on Andy Warhol. Pictures: Dean Atkins
Parkwood E Act Academy pupils in an art class focusing on Andy Warhol. Pictures: Dean Atkins
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Building community partnerships is seen as a vital way to improve social cohesion for pupils at Parkwood E-ACT Academy.

Headteacher Vicky Simcock believes building links with the community is an important way to improve the lives of the children in her school and developing social cohesion in the ethnically diverse area is top of her agenda.

A rugby lesson at the school

A rugby lesson at the school

She said: "As an education professional, I have an obligation to make sure my students grow up as balanced, young individuals who can contribute successfully to society.

"We live in an area where students are vulnerable and it's easy for them to fall in with the wrong crowd of get into trouble, so I feel I have a duty to make sure social cohesion is as important to Parkwood Academy as successful GCSE exam results are."

She has developed links with local councillors, MPs, dignitaries and business people across the city and has introduced a number of activities and initiatives that get students involved in community activities.

One of the key initiatives is the Respect and Understanding: Building Inclusive Communities project with youth empowerment group Chilypep, which is based at the school.

Pupils baking scones in a lesson

Pupils baking scones in a lesson

The three-year project sees youngsters from the north of the city trained to become youth community leaders to help heal tensions between different ethnic groups and communities and help them become role models for other youngsters.

A diverse Academy Ambassador Group has been developed at the school, which includes a local councillor, owner of Singh's Premier Stores, parents and some students.

Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough MP Gill Furniss and Lord Mayor of Sheffield Coun Anne Murphy regular visit the school for awards ceremonies, which are held every half-term.

Mrs Simcock said their presence spreads positivity among students and their parents and has helped pupils' self-esteem.

Pupils in an art class

Pupils in an art class

The ceremony sees three awards given out to every year group in every subject for most improved learner, highest attainer and best effort.

"When we began the awards in January, students were not good at receiving praise and they struggled in public situations," she said.

"They often had wet, limp handshakes and were afraid not to come up to the stage to receive their awards.

"However since the regular presence of the Lord Mayor and our local MP, the children are much more engaged and now love coming to collect their certificates from the stage.

Headteacher Vicky Simcock

Headteacher Vicky Simcock

"The same is true of parents who come along and hear the speeches from these dignitaries at the same time as seeing their children collect and award."

Students and staff have involved in fundraising, both to support charities and the school.

In the past year £20,000 has been raise for St Luke's Hospice, more than £1,000 for the Red Cross and £600 for the Grenfell Tower victims through activities such as bag-packing, tuck shop raffles and summer and winter fairs.

The school has also raised £646.32 which will go towards the year seven residential trip.

The annual trip to Lockerbrook Outdoor Centre, in the Peak District, is a highlight of the year for the school's youngster pupils.

For many it is the first time they have been to the Peak District or experienced activities such as rock climbing and orienteering.

Every form in the year goes to the centre for two days and the latest year group have just returned from their stay.

Oli Lewis, the school's senior director for innovation, said: "For some of the youngsters it is the first time they have been to the Peak District even thought it's on their doorstep.

"The drive there is up a steep, winding road and that grabs their attention straight away, along with the views.

"Where we go is really remote and we don't have any phone signal so there is no mobile phones so it really isolates them. It's a great experience.

"If we can get one child into a new experience, like rock climbing, then that's great."

Year seven pupils were full of praise for the trip with tower building using crates, orienteering and rock climbing among their favourite activities.

One pupil said: "I really liked the crate building because I faced my gear of heights.

"We had to build crates up in a tower and climb them to grab a monkey toy at the top."

Another added: "Where we were was like being in a picture with all the hills. We got to see the sunrise and the sunset."

The road up to the centre was full of potholes so as part of the school's in-house provision for alternative vocational activities, some year eight and 10 pupils went to repair it. This enabled them to get experience of work and also helped to give back to the community.

Mrs Simcock said with financial pressures growing for schools it was important for her to develop in-house alternative provision, which ins't as costly as bringing in an external company.

She said: "We do gardening in house and hair and beauty for example because that is more appropriate for these pupils.

"For some it's about combining these type of activities with more traditional subjects like maths and English."

Raising aspirations in students is important at the academy and links have been developed with the University of Sheffield.

From year seven upwards students and parents go on visits to the university and speak with staff to find out more about university life. Pupils in years 10 and 11 get the opportunity to have an overnight stay in halls of residence.

The school's futures programme rewards also pupils for their hard work with trips to help broaden their horizons.

When Mrs Simcock returned to the school as headteacher last year she was keen to change the culture to ensure it was more inclusive.

Quotes which adorn the walls around the school were all from well-known white men, so Mrs Simcock ensured more were created with women and people of different backgrounds.

She also introduced four schools within the school - communication, cultural, innovation and analysis - each with senior directors who cover specific subjects.

Year seven pupils are also given support from humanities teachers and primary school teachers to help them develop from key stage two to key stage three.

The school's motto is believe, achieve and succeed and it seems that pupils at Parkwood E-ACT Academy are given the best opportunities to do just that - both in and outside the classroom.