A Margate head teacher who spoke out about the poverty faced by many of his students has launched a fundraising appeal to pay for Christmas hampers full of essentials and gifts for youngsters.
Matthew Tate, who is the head teacher at Hartsdown Academy, hopes to raise £1,000 to bring Christmas to children who would otherwise face a bleak festive season.
In his appeal he says: “Everyone knows the story Christmas Carol. In the story Tiny Tim was destitute with nothing except the love of his family. What fewer people know is that this is still the reality for many children in the UK today.
“Key areas of Thanet are some of the poorest in the UK and children instead of looking forward to Christmas dread it, knowing that instead of gifts under the tree they will be hungry and cold.
“We want to make a simple difference by putting a Christmas Gift in as many families hands as possible.” (Find donation link at the bottom of the article).
‘We wash kids’ clothes’
Mr Tate spoke on LBC radio earlier this week about the crushing poverty faced by many of his students and the efforts of staff to alleviate some of the problems.
He told radio presenter James O’Brien: “We wash children’s clothes, we feed kids breakfast, we take kids into hospital when we need to, we fight with social services, the police, other things when we need to. I’m not criticising those services, they’re as stretched as we are.
“Our view and my view is that education is a huge part of what we do, obviously, but actually, we have a responsibility to do the best for our kids.”
Mr Tate also spoke of how many of his students face the poorest life expectancy in Kent and that youngsters were two and a half times more likely to die in childhood, adding: “”There’s obviously many reasons for it but not least is the fact that in our area it’s very difficult for people to get a GP so preventable diseases, cancer and things, are all picked up late.”
Mr Tate aims to bring dentists and GPs into the school and has already arranged an optician visit.
Other issues raised were children trafficked by gangs, the 18 month wait to see specialists for mental health issues and the inequality of Ofsted inspections when being measured against schools with significantly less deprivation in their catchment areas.
He said: “We’ve got children that have been trafficked around the country into brothels and so we do our best to get them qualifications and my belief is education turns around lives and by getting children qualifications, we will do that.
“We don’t exclude children at my school. We’ve had zero fixed term exclusions. We don’t permanently exclude children whatever they do because that just causes more damage.
“Instead of being praised for it, I don’t do it to get praise for it, we get hammered because our GCSE results are compared to the schools you’re talking about.”
Lack of investment
He also revealed the government will not invest in ‘failing’ schools, saying: “”Kids are living in homes that are cold. Up until last year the school had had a 1960s boiler that had broken down every year, so the school was cold and the reason why the government wouldn’t give us money to replace that boiler and fix it was because we were not a good school.
“Policy is if a school is struggling and in difficulties, they won’t give it money which to me in a common sense way seems insane. What they say is it’s market forces, we support the good schools.
“Market forces doesn’t serve areas like this. I’ve got friends who know people that came into the area as a GP and they found that it was so depressing and difficult to work as a GP in Thanet that they left so we have those GP shortages, dentist shortages, the lack of the good food, all of those things.”
Mr Tate said he hoped for a change in the ‘political winds.’
Child poverty on the isle
Thanet has the highest rates of child poverty in Kent.
The data for 2017/18, compiled by Loughborough University on behalf of coalition End Child Poverty, says 35% of children on the isle live below the poverty line (after housing costs) – equating to 11,474 youngsters- with Newington estimated to have a shocking 51% of youngsters in poverty.
The wards with the second highest figure of 46% are Cliftonville West and Dane Valley followed by 42% in Northwood, Margate Central and Salmestone. The Margate wards are the Hartsdown school catchment area.
Hartsdown raising aspirations
Hartsdown has got programmes in place to tackle issues and to raise aspirations. The school is working with new arts and education charity The Sixteen Trust and recently displayed students’ work alongside Turner Prize nominees such as Tracey Emin.
The Trust is working with Hartsdown students, with the aim of expanding this to the isle’s Coastal Academy Trust schools and then further afield, to show them how their talents and potential could be used to carve out a career in arts.
There is also a £10 million new build taking place on site with five of its teaching blocks being demolished to create a new school building and sports hall extension. The new build is expected to be completed by February 2020 with a second phase due for completion by September 2020.
Future ambitions for Hartsdown include becoming an all-through primary/secondary school serving children aged 4 – 19, similar to the St George’s site in Broadstairs.
A radical overhaul to the way Year 7 students are being taught was also introduced last year.
The school has changed the way Year 7 students take their classes to make a hybrid transition between primary and secondary school.
The youngsters in Year 7 have their day split into three parts. The first of these is literacy focusing on English, history, geography and ethics and philosophy. The second is numeracy centred around maths, science and computer science. The third part of the curriculum is taken by four or five different teachers and is based on subjects including art, music, PE, Spanish and for the first time British Sign Language.
The structure is part of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme which the school is in the process of being registered to formally deliver.
In 2018 Ofsted inspectors rated Hartsdown Academy as requiring improvement – a drop from the Good grading in its last inspection in 2014 – but praised Mr Tate, saying his work since he took up post in 2016 was “transforming the school.”
Mr Tate, who told the LBC presenter “I love what I do but sometimes it hurts incredibly” is hoping the Christmas hamper appeal will raise money but also encourage donations of new toys and non perishable food. The aim is for each hamper to have toiletries, food including Christmas treats and gifts for the children.