Department for Education’s Regional Director SW reflects on a brilliant visit to North Star Academy Trust in Bristol

Lucy Livings, Regional Director, South West Regions Group, reflects on her visit to North Star 240° on 24 April 2024 and met with staff and pupils to learn more about the important work carried out at the school that supports all children to thrive. Here’s what she had to say…

I recently had the opportunity to visit North Star 240° to see the work that North Star Academy Trust is doing to support some of the most vulnerable children in Bristol. As Regional Director for South West Regions Group in the Department for Education, I have visited many schools throughout my seven years in the team, but I was delighted to get the chance to visit a Social Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) special school in my home city of Bristol.

It was great to hear about the bespoke care and support provided to each child at the school, and how the trust works to ensure that each child is able to settle and succeed in their academies.

A particular highlight was seeing an activity whereby children were asked to recall a positive interaction they recently had. After each interaction was shared, they handed over a ball of string to another classmate, building a spider’s web that represented all their positive interactions. The children were very enthusiastic to share their experiences and the joy in the room was palpable.

I was then invited to observe a PE lesson where children were working on their fielding, catching and batting skills in a game of cricket, it was wonderful to see a few ‘fours’ being scored! In contrast to this high energy environment, we then visited the very calm and relaxed art classroom where children were intently focused on their artwork inspired by ‘Día de los Muertos’. Not only was a fantastic to see the focused work of the children, but also the passion and enthusiasm from the staff.

Preparing and supporting young people for life

Whilst walking around the school, I was struck by the formality of the pupils’ uniforms and the school environment. We discussed how these nuances contribute to a feeling of pride in their school, and that attending a special school should not necessarily mean a less formal school experience.  

We talked about the importance of transition for North Star 240°’s pupils. As we know, the adjustment to secondary school can be a challenging time for our young people, particularly those with SEMH needs. It was reassuring to hear about the strong and robust transition period for new pupils, and the successes they’ve seen this year after trialling a new and longer transition period.

We also talked about the school’s vital role in supporting the students in planning for their future and immediate next steps, which has prompted me to think more deeply about how we work with the Further Education sector to ensure young people with additional needs have the best possible opportunities available to them, and that this transition is as smooth as possible. 

I am also passionate about the development of SEND provision and inclusion in all of our schools and so I was encouraged to learn more about the work of the North Star outreach programme. We discussed the work of this programme and how it is supporting mainstream schools to better meet the needs of children with SEMH issues.

Prioritising SEND support

In my newly appointed role, one of my main priorities for Bristol is to improve the join-up between agencies and stakeholders to improve the experiences of young people with SEND. In March 2023 the department published the SEND and AP Improvement Plan to ensure children and young people across England with special educational needs get high-quality, early support wherever they live in the country. In order to improve parents’ and carers’ experiences of accessing support, new local SEND and AP partnerships will produce new Local Area Inclusion Plans to meet the needs of children in the local area in line with National Standards, and A standardised EHCP process, with greater use of digital technology, will reduce bureaucracy.

Thanks again to the school and trust for hosting us on such a fantastic and inspiring visit. I wish to extend my thanks to the team that showed us around and also all those at the school who were so accommodating to our visit.