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Crawley pupil joins other youths in taking over West Sussex County Council for the day

Youth Cabinet members joined senior councillors on Friday 23 November to take a peek behind the scenes of West Sussex County Council to see how it works and to also join in.

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Josh, Harley and Louise Goldsmith

Youth Cabinet members range in ages from 11-18 and are elected by their peers to represent all areas of West Sussex (likely to be where they live) and meet up once or twice a month.

Eight young members took the chance to shadow senior cabinet members, county council staff and an MP as part of the national Takeover Challenge day, which saw hundreds of young people step into the shoes of a wide range of adult jobs.

The day before, Tom Van Den Berg, 16, one of the two Youth Cabinet members for Bognor Regis and Felpham, and Heather Smith, 13, (Southbourne), met up with Jeremy Hunt, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, and Pieter Montyn, Member for The Witterings. They joined a Performance and Finance Select Committee meeting and listened to some of the issues that were raised, including a budget update and key decisions taken in the Forward Plan.

Tom said:

“I was really thankful to have the opportunity to sit around the table. I have a passion for politics and hope for it to become more than just a hobby.”

George Bowron, 15, (Crawley) and Will Nyss, 15, (Lancing) spent the day with Paul Marshall, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, finding out about his role.

Mr Marshall said:

“It was a pleasure to have George and Will join me for the day and together we learned about the crucial roles social workers carry out for young people and their families in West Sussex. It’s brilliant to see young people interested and engaging in politics in this way.”

Harley Collins, 14, (Chichester and West Arun), spent the morning with Deborah Urquhart, Cabinet Member for Environment, at Westhampnett Solar Farm and the Drayton depot with West Sussex Highways staff.

Harley said:

“Learning about how West Sussex County Council’s highways department manages its tasks with its ground teams was fascinating. I also learnt renewable energy is the future and learning about solar panels was amazing!”

Harley then spent the rest of the day with the communications team drafting an article for Connections, the local residents’ magazine and also learnt about data handling from the Insight team.

Josh Patterson, 14, the other MYC for Bognor and Felpham, was with the communications team for the day. He learnt how to use software to take over the various West Sussex Your Space social media platforms for young people, and posted pictures of what was going on during the day. He also learnt how to write a press release.

Josh said:

“I was really grateful to have the opportunity to come and see how communications work and to write my own press release. It was really fun.”

Jeremy Hunt, Tom Van Den Berg and Pieter Montyn

Harley and Josh ended their day by meeting Louise Goldsmith, Leader of West Sussex County Council and asked her many questions about her job.

Louise Goldsmith said:

“I was delighted to have Josh and Harley spend part of the day with me and my team for an ‘ask the leader’ session. We spoke about various topics from school funding to youth consultations and a bit about Brexit and I was really impressed with both of them.”

Spencer Hildrew, 15, (Southbourne) and Dylan Collier, 16, (Chichester) also spent the day shadowing Gillian Keegan, Member of Parliament for Chichester, in London.

Mrs Keegan said:

“It was a great pleasure to welcome Spencer and Dylan from the West Sussex Youth Cabinet to the House of Commons. We are in the midst of the Brexit negotiations and it is an interesting time to be in politics and I’m hoping Spencer and Dylan enjoyed their day.

“We have had many young people from across the Chichester District join us for work experience and shadowing days and we always look forward to welcoming them.”

Find out more about the West Sussex Youth Cabinet: https://www.westsussex.gov.uk/education-children-and-families/your-space/participate/youth-cabinet/

Education

‘Amazing’ the words of pupils as Crawley school bounces back

Last year the only words to describe Thomas Bennett Community College that were being shared across Tilgate and around Crawley were ‘strike’, ‘desperate’ and ‘cuts’.

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Politicians around the area were up in arms as panic began to slowly set in as parents, students and even teachers began to club together as worry of the schools future was banded around.

It got so bad that a public meeting was called with even the town council leader speaking out saying ‘people are desperate’. What then followed was a call for a strike and even pupils deciding to take action themselves before protesters then marched through the town.

Reports of teachers and support staff quitting their jobs only added to the heated discussions being held. All said it left Thomas Bennett Community College under a very dark cloud.

Fast forward almost a year and it is a very different story and one that needs to be proclaimed with the loudest of voices from the highest of towers.

For a change has occurred within the very fabric of the school and it is evident, not just from details within a new Ofsted report, but also from the energy of both the pupils and the staff.

School should be a safe and happy environment. It should be a place where young people can learn, where staff can help develop young minds in a caring and motivated environment. It should be a place that creates fond memories. Well now all these ‘should bes’ are becoming a reality.

No one person can make such a dramatic change, it takes many, but what it does require is a leader to take hold of the reins and to show belief and this is exactly what the new head Stuart Smith has done.

Headteacher Stuart Smith

Mr Smith only took over as headteacher in January this year but in less than six months the change has been meteoric and this hasn’t just been noticed by those who can be the most critical, the pupils, but also the inspectors.

Three years ago an Ofsted report deemed the school ‘Requires Improvement’ across the board. The key findings pointing out flaws which at the time were then being addressed.

The problem was that with funding cuts and moral falling it was a battle that seemed overwhelming. Whatever the reasons over the course of the following years the resulting impact affected everyone.

In the latest report, whilst most of the findings are still resulting in the same result it is when you delve into the details that you see change is afoot and had Ofsted done their inspection a little later in the year then the result would have been extremely different.

Firstly the sixth form has now been given a ‘good’ standing, something unthinkable when you look back only months to see many of them protesting on the streets with their parents.

Then there are the comments about the new headteacher.

“The recent appointment of a permanent headteacher has improved matters significantly”

“The headteacher has improved the school’s culture so that is more aspirational for staff and pupils.”

“Staff agree that the current headteacher has transformed the school.”

And a comment from one teacher shows just how much of an impact Mr Smith is having with Ofsted even publishing their quote, ‘the headteacher is relentlessly positive.’

But it doesn’t stop there. The report even mentions how there has been a transformation of pupils’ behaviour and how the school has now developed an effective personal and social education.

Dr Karen Roberts CEO of The Kemnal Academies Trust said:

“We are pleased that the inspectors recognised that the school is now making rapid improvements under the leadership of the recently appointed Headteacher. We are fully aware that there is much still to be done and the Trust will provide the support needed to ensure the students at Thomas Bennett received a good education.”

But the real test is not with any government inspector. Nor is it with a board of governors or a Trust or even concerned parents. The real test is with the customers themselves. The pupils.

With no direction or interruption from a teacher we were able to speak with pupils from all years in a round table session where we asked for them to speak openly about the school. What happened was startling.

Normally these interviews can be awkward with pupils conscious of a teacher analysing their words. But they can also be a real insight into what the ‘real’ feeling is amongst those most critical of their environment.

There was a real energy, a positivity that empowered you as you listened. There was pride and they wanted to share it.

After hearing their stories of how the school was such a different place last year they were asked to sum why someone should come to Thomas Bennett and to use one word to sum the school up. These are the actual responses from several of those

“The teachings great. Positive”

“You get so many opportunities. Positive”

“The teachings really good, you can make really good friends here even if they are in an older year. You never feel pressured into anything. We have gone through all the negative things and it’s all turning into positive. Fantastic.”

“You can get your voices heard. Trustworthy

“It’s welcoming, everyones kind and nice. Memorable”

“If you have any worries big or small you can always go to a member of staff and they really help you. Understanding

“The school really helps people with all different kinds of issues whether they are mental health or even something like autism. Helpful

All this change in months, not years and without any unnecessary intervention from politicians or councilors.

Mr Smith knows the school is not there yet but it is certainly on its way and he truly believes within 18 months the words ‘Good’ and ‘Outstanding’ will be used by inspectors.

He said:

“This is a very exciting time to be part of Thomas Bennett Community College. The whole community has my absolute reassurance that I am both committed and determined to ensuring that areas requiring improvement are being addressed and the rapid improvement continues. I will also build of the many strengths highlighted in the detail of the report, with the support of staff, students, parents and the Trust we will bring about sustained improvement for the benefit of Thomas Bennett Community College and its community”.

Exciting times it is and none more so than for the pupils themselves. But what comes out of all this more than anything, more than the reports and the PR that accompanies this sort of change is the true belief and support that change is happening and whilst it is fast and dramatic, it is in the description of numerous pupils ‘AMAZING’.

The only way to sum this all up is to leave you with the words of one pupil who said:

“If you want your child to become such an amazing person and to grow then Thomas Bennett is the school for you!”

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