John, a student of Goodwin Academy School in Deal, Kent kept falling asleep throughout lessons, which raised both frustration and concerns with his teachers and the senior leadership team. John is well-mannered, pleasant, a little scruffy but a proud young man and found the experience of sharing his problems with the school difficult, as many do. John’s mother is incredibly hard working, in fact she works several jobs as she is the only source of income, which places strains onto John and his two younger siblings. Life for them all is tough, much harder than many imagine, let alone understand. John’s mother survives on very little and will often will go without meals and the simplest of essentials purely to provide for her children. It is a constant struggle as she must juggle her family’s very existence from providing a roof over their heads, to food and warmth. Her love is unconditional, costs nothing to provide and her children suffer no hardship in this quarter. However, she has been unable to provide adequate warmth for her children.
John explained that the cold winter has been hard for them as they have been unable to afford heating in their small flat, with the long nights being the hardest. John and his mother struggle to sleep as they are cold. The youngsters are wrapped-up tight in all available bedding whereas John and his mother sleep in their clothes and coats as their priority is to keep the young ones warm. The classroom provides comfort and warmth and John inevitably turns to deep sleeps instead of learning. Of course, the teachers of Goodwin Academy rallied and provided sacks full of bed linen, which now provide night time warmth for the whole family.
I sat for several hours with Ann-Marie, the Vice Principal of Goodwin Academy School and she spoke openly about the children at her school. She cares deeply, and I cannot imagine how she wrestles with her emotions as some of the situations are difficult to accept. I was overwhelmed with sadness and cannot sit back without attempting to make a difference, which I have every intention of achieving. Sadly, John is not alone as the Thanet and Dover areas have two of the highest rates of child poverty in Kent and the south east, with around 17,200 children affected. As much as we would love to help each and every child, sadly we cannot however, we can make a difference to the children at Goodwin Academy. We have taken on a greater role and hope to support every child, not just those who are struggling financially, those in foster care or children from broken homes as I have learnt that children outside of these brackets often miss-out as much of the remedial support work, day trips and additional finances are not made available to them.
Of course, schools are no different to the NHS and they must juggle their budgets diligently with an understandable emphasis towards those most in need, which of course is the correct way to direct their funds. The Vinorium Foundation is centred around providing an equal opportunity for every child (regardless of their background). It has taken time and much deliberation to find our start point, which emphasises each child’s attendance and their behaviour towards their fellow students. Statistically, those students from less fortunate backgrounds at Goodwin Academy are less likely to attend school on a regular basis, which of course creates untold damage for their future. This is further compounded by a lower academic ability as they are simply missing too many classes. In turn, this creates profound issues with regards to their self-esteem and confidence, which often manifests itself as verbally aggressive behaviour during difficult lessons - A cyclic problem which must be broken down with every child understanding the importance of regular attendance coupled with respectful behaviour.
The Vinorium Foundation has presented each child with the opportunity to earn a gift voucher of £50.00 upon 100% attendance combined with good behaviour. Those children sitting between 98-99% will receive a gift voucher for £30.00 and children sitting above 97% will receive a £10.00 gift voucher. The Vinorium Foundation will fund all prizes. A special awards ceremony will be organised as we believe that each and every child should receive their gifts in front of their fellow students to huge claps and cheers. How wonderful for them all and something I am already looking forward to.
The school has prepared a leader board for all year groups with the names of students and their respective percentage attendance posted weekly. This is a league table system (visible for all to see in the school hall) which has already created lots of excitement and healthy competition. It is important to add that we have built-in caveats regarding missed days. Family bereavements and important hospital appointments only. Sick days are not included as we all played hooky, and this is a difficult one to judge!
In addition, we have invested £1000.00 and created a stationery shop. Every item within the shop will be on a tariff, which is already worked out and has been checked for 'value' and 'fairness' with the students. The school has a spreadsheet ready to go which allows merits to accumulate, and which will also register exchanges for the stationery, so that every student's tally is automatically updated. Sixth form students will operate the stationery shop as part of their service to the school and it is to be housed in the library, encouraging greater use and familiarity for students who may not go there regularly already. This has already had spin-off benefits before we sell anything - student voice and sixth form community service.
Students will be able to exchange merits for quality items (very important) including calculators, notebooks and larger items, not just rulers, pens, pencils and erasers. Some will have the schools logo on, developing the schools identity. Students see something tangible for their efforts and can even 'save up' if they see something they would like. The plan is to allocate a lunchtime to each year group, until students become familiar with the shop.
The school expect students to bring their own equipment, but when speaking to some students, we learn that they do not live surrounded by ball point pens and other stationery in the way that we might. Pens are not disposable and easily replaced, far from it. The school shop will provide a supply route, and also develop more of a sense of ownership and pride, as items are exchanged for merit rewards. A few words from Ann-Marie, the Vice Principal “Everyone at Goodwin Academy has the wellbeing and success of its young people at the heart of everything they do, day in, day out. Challenges faced by many students are hard-hitting and long-lasting in their detrimental effects, especially when due to family circumstances. Education should become the route to a better life with options and choices that we take for granted. Yet all too often, these barriers appear to become insurmountable and the young person becomes another statistic of what might have been, had their potential been fully realised. Working with The Vinorium Foundation allows us to be that much more creative in how we tackle this; it allows us to demonstrate what is possible and reward those children that dare to dream with us and who put the steps into action to fulfil those dreams. In short, it brings hope of a kind that is rarely found in schools, because it focuses on qualities and attributes that everyone can develop, which will be of life-long use. Additionally, it takes account of the community, providing a means to develop relationships and to promote the benefits of working hard, with purpose and with courage.”
I will share our successes and sadly, failings over the comings months, which of course we will learn from and take into the next term with renewed vigour.
Founder & Director