Students at Excelsior Academy energised by Northern Powergrid partnership

Year 7 and 8 students at Excelsior Academy in Newcastle upon Tyne have been learning about the future of green and renewable energy thanks to a new partnership between the school and the region’s electricity distributor, Northern Powergrid.

Part of the North East LEP’s Education Challenge initiative, which aims to reduce the gap between the best and lowest performing secondary schools in the region, staff from Northern Powergrid have been supporting students’ curriculum-based learning with teaching and learning direct from the workplace.

Elliot Dixon, EHV Design Engineer at Northern Powergrid, visited the school to speak to pupils about the role of Northern Powergrid and its commitment to green and renewable energy.

Elliot said: “The students at Excelsior Academy really impressed me with their intelligent questions about how we deliver electricity to homes and businesses and how we respond to a power cut.

“Having the opportunity to speak to the workforce of tomorrow about Northern Powergrid and the important role we play has been a great experience for everyone involved. I hope we’ve inspired some students to come and work with us in the future.”

Hannah Cummins, Industry Alignment Manager at Excelsior Academy, said: “Having meaningful encounters with employers from the local area is something we’re committed to delivering our students.

“The Education Challenge programme expands students’ knowledge of the opportunities available to them when they leave school and it also helps them understand the skills they need for the workplace.”

Excelsior Academy is one of three schools in the region piloting the North East LEP’s Education Challenge initiative, which is built on the highly successful Ford Next Generation Learning programme currently embedded in schools across Nashville, Tennessee, and other US cities.

When introduced to Nashville schools, high school graduation rates rose by almost 23% as well as improvements in attainment, student behaviour and attendance.

For more information about Education Challenge, visit

Helping our future innovators get to grips with clean energy

Northern Gas Networks, the organisation responsible for delivering gas to 2.7 million homes and businesses in the North East, Northern Cumbria and Yorkshire, has partnered with the North East LEP to bring an example of project-based learning into a North Tyneside schools. Sarah Napier, Education and Employability Champion at Northern Gas Networks, explains more.

We’re embarking on a new project, working in collaboration with year 11 Construction students at Norham High School in North Tyneside. We’ll be challenging the students to look at the construction of domestic housing, why gas is used in housing, and how we can work to reduce energy use in homes and make them more sustainable.

Northern Gas Networks has a research facility in Gateshead and, as part of the project, the students will be visiting the site to find out about some of the initiatives we have in place to help reduce our carbon footprint and increase the use of clean energy. We hope the group will be inspired by what they see and hear – for example, they will hear from people who are involved in the some of the following projects:

H21: Hydrogen is a clean gas which emits only water and heat when burnt, meaning it doesn’t contribute towards climate change and could be used as a future fuel for heating and cooking. We’re delivering a range of projects called H21, aimed at proving a gas network carrying 100% hydrogen is just as safe as the natural gas network we use today. This week we’ll be attending the Low Carbon Networks and Innovation conference in Telford….and we’ll be taking an exhibition stand powered by hydrogen!

iStop: Our Emergency and Repair engineers often need to use on-board power when carrying out repairs on our network. But this isn’t an environmentally-friendly solution, so we’ve trialled a clever device called iStop. This detects when power hasn’t been needed for a certain time, and drops down the engine revs from 1600rpm to 1200, reducing fuel consumption and carbon emissions. Revs then return when power is required. iStop is now a specification requirement for all our vans using on-board power.

Solar-powered land clean-up: Since 2014, we’ve been remediating our portfolio of former coal gas sites, where there is potential for land contamination. On a site in Gateshead, we recently used solar-powered pumps to remove coal tar from an underground tank, an entirely sustainable solution we plan to replicate on future jobs.  To date we’ve completed land remediations at 9 sites, returning to 3500m2 of land to a healthy state.

Over the course of one term, Norham High School’s future designers, builders and construction experts will work on designing solutions for their housing projects, with guidance from Northern Gas Network staff, before presenting their designs to a team of senior staff at the end of the term.

While we work with a lot of different schools (you can see more of what we do on Twitter at @NGN_Evolve), this particular type of school challenge is a new way of working for us and we’re grateful to be working with the pupils and teachers at Norham – hopefully we will be able to roll out more projects like this to other schools in the future as part of our Education and Employability programmes.

It’s important to us as an organisation that we’re not only working to reduce energy use and make more use of clean energy, but that we’re also working with the next generation of innovators who will be responsible for taking our work forward in the future and this is a great example of bringing the workplace and education closer.

Northern Gas Networks is one of the businesses working with the North East LEP on the Education Challenge, which aims to reduce the gap between the North East’s best and lowest performing schools, with the target that all schools achieve a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ OFSTED rating.

Pictured: One of Northern Gas Networks’ compressed natural gas vehicles at the Low Carbon Networks & Innovation Conference

Business leaders embedded into schools to drive pupil career success

Successful businessman Gary Burton has joined a Northumberland school’s senior management team creating a powerful alliance to guide the future job prospects of hundreds of pupils.

He is the region’s first Enterprise Advisor – spearheading a North East Local Enterprise Partnership initiative embedding business leaders into secondary schools on a voluntary basis to help teachers shape the delivery of careers education.

Gary, managing director at specialist engineering firm Arefco, is offering his industry expertise as part of the team at the Northumberland Church of England (C of E) Academy’s Ashington campus. He will bring extensive industry knowledge to the school to ensure careers provision for pupils meets business need.

The close working relationship between Arefco – based on the Jubilee Industrial Estate in Ashington – and Northumberland C of E Academy is part of the North East LEP’s wider work to boost economic growth through educational achievement.

Andrew Hodgson, North East LEP Chair, said: “The LEP’s Education Challenge is committed to improving business-education links.

“Our ambition is to ensure that every young person in the North East is able to identify routes to a successful working life – with the opportunity from an early age to have exposure to the world of work and meet people along the way who can inspire and motivate them.

“The Enterprise Advisors are a key part of this and we are excited to see the value that they bring. If you are a passionate, successful leader and believe you could inspire the young people of our region, you should absolutely get involved with this project. It is our opportunity as a business community to support our young people and I would encourage you to do so.”

A total of 24 schools from Berwick to Durham have signed up to the Enterprise Advisor Network, each to be allocated a volunteer business leader in their area to work with them on careers development. Together, they are looking to refine the way schools and businesses interact, examine their enterprise strategies and fill any gaps.

Gary said: “We have a very specific need for technical skills and the type of people we need are just not in the shop window for us to employ.

“Through the partnership with the academy, we can identify the right attitude, aptitude and approach pupils will need to successfully develop and progress into sustainable employment – it’s a win-win opportunity.

“Arefco is involved in the project as a business that cares passionately about putting our combined hundreds of years’ worth of knowledge into giving young people a chance to follow their career of choice.”

Steve Gibson, Northumberland C of E Academy Secondary School Principal, accompanied pupils on a tour of Arefco’s factory. He said: “It is vital for schools to work in partnership with employers to ensure that our young people are fully prepared for their future education and careers.”

North East LEP Enterprise Co-ordinator Denis Heaney is leading the project for the region.

“The world of work is changing and this unique programme is an opportunity for businesses like Arefco to be embedded within a school and make a massive difference to students and their future prospects,” said Denis.

“For the first time, business leaders like Gary will sit alongside head teachers and their senior leadership team, to embed careers development, enterprise and employer engagement into the curriculum from Year 7 onwards so it is taught on a daily basis.”

Arefco employs 65 people at its Jubilee Industrial Estate base, having recently expanded with the acquisition of Stephenson Precision Components of Blyth as the next stage in its growth plans.

It manufactures high precision components for the oil and gas, aerospace, defence and renewables sectors, for blue chip companies such as Halliburton, Aker Solutions and GE.

The North East project is part of the national voluntary Enterprise Advisor Network which reflects new Government careers policy. The programme is being co-ordinated at a national level through the Careers and Enterprise Company.