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Newcastle pupils learn how to prepare for the world’s toughest rowing challenge

Pupils at Newcastle’s Excelsior Academy have been taking lessons from two North East rowers who are set to take on ‘the world’s toughest row’.

On 12 December, Paul Hopkins and Philip Pugh, known as the Atlantic Dream team, will be setting off from La Gomera, in the Canary Islands, to race 3,000 miles to Antigua as part of the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge.

As they have been training for the challenge, they have also been running workshops with year 8 pupils at Excelsior Academy, helping the students to learn about topics including nutrition, design, weather and engineering.

“By working with Excelsior Academy we’ve been able to help the students learn through experiencing a practical project like our rowing challenge,” said Philip Pugh. “The students have learnt about the construction of our boat – which will be the only wooden boat in the race – as well as how we prepare for a challenge like this, the training we do and the equipment that we’ll be using.”

Paul Hopkins added: “Children ask the most amazing questions and they come at things from a very different angle from adults. We wanted to inspire children of all backgrounds to know that they can achieve amazing things.”

The partnership is part of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Education Challenge programme, which is piloting a new model of learning in North East schools. The model is based on an approach which was first adopted in Nashville in 2005 and which resulted in significant improvements in attainment.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East LEP, said: We hugely appreciate the support and involvement of Paul and Phil with Excelsior Academy and I know the students have been really inspired by working with them.

“By supporting teaching in an applied context through projects like this, it really enables pupils to engage with the subject, helping them to understand how what they learn at school applies to real-world situations. They’re an amazing pair to take on such an epic challenge and we’re looking forward to following their progress and success.”

As well as hearing from Paul and Philip and having the opportunity to ask questions about the challenge, the students will also visit the Port of Blyth to learn more about the construction of boats.

The students had the opportunity to sign Paul and Philip’s boat and, once the pair begin the challenge, will track their progress using GPS.

“Taking on this challenge takes us away from our homes and families but it will help to know that we have the support of all the pupils at Excelsior when we’re thousands of miles from home,” said Paul.

“Our boat is signed all over by people from the North East and we are rowing for everyone in the region. We’re not looking forward to the sea-sickness and discomfort but we are definitely looking forward to returning to Excelsior Academy when we’ve completed the race and telling the pupils all about it,” added Philip.

The Education Challenge programme supports schools to tackle their key challenges so they can improve, closing the gap between the region’s best and lowest performing schools to ensure that no child is left behind. Find out more at northeastambition.co.uk.

The Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge will begin on 12 December 2019 and the Atlantic Dream team, who are the oldest pair of rowers in this year’s race, will be raising money for Tiny Lives and the Firefighters Charity. Find out more at atlanticdream19.com/

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Newcastle pupils partner with Port of Blyth to put learning into action

Students and teachers at Newcastle’s Excelsior Academy have been using applied learning to strengthen the links between schools and employers.

Holly Knox, Assistant Principal of Hadrian School at Excelsior Academy, talks about the school’s recent visit to the Port of Blyth and how it has helped students to apply classroom learning to real life.

We took two groups of our year 7 and 8 pupils to The Port of Blyth as part of their current project about renewable energy. The pupils have been focusing on the themes of renewable energy and climate change, and this visit to the Port of Blyth helped them to see some real-life applications of what they’ve been learning as well as being an opportunity to find out about STEM careers in the energy sector, which is one of the main growth sectors in the region.

Although we’re based in Newcastle, just a few miles from the sea, some of our pupils had never been to the coast before and many of them didn’t know that renewable energy equipment like wind turbines are developed and tested here in the North East. We wanted our students to be able to see for themselves how the North East plays a key part in the renewable energy sector, to find out about the different people who work in the sector, and to think about their own futures and the types of careers they might be interested in.

On the day, we had a tour of the Port, met people who worked in different jobs within the organisation, and we were able to see the technology and machinery in action, including the equipment which is used to dig the trench for the cable that stretches along the seabed all the way from Blyth to Norway. We also completed a hands-on challenge where pupils built their own mini wind turbines and competed to see which group could generate the highest voltage.

They came away enthused and excited about what they’d found out, and absolutely buzzing about what they achieved in building the mini turbines. The visit really inspired them and some of the equipment they saw in action was beyond anything they’d imagined.

Everything we did on the day linked with what we’ve been teaching in the classroom and back at school, the students are continuing to talk about what they learnt on their visit and connecting what they’ve seen with what they’re learning. Every day they are asking questions linked to the visit and we’re reflecting together on what we saw and heard, and what we now know about renewable energy in the North East.

It really was quite empowering for both the pupils and the staff involved and we will be repeating this project with our next cohort of students and we hope to build on this connection we now have with the Port of Blyth.

Holly Knox, Assistant Principal of Hadrian School at Excelsior Academy.

Excelsior Academy is one of three North East schools taking part in a pilot of project based learning.

Project based learning is designed to make learning in the classroom relevant to the world of work, embed careers information into the curriculum and equip young people with skills for 21st century careers.

It is part of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Education Challenge and delivered in partnership with Edge Future Learning. It draws on a model developed by Ford Next Generation Learning in United States who are sharing their experience and expertise.

Find out more about the Education Challenge programme.

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Local MP sees new way of learning being piloted in North East schools

Local MP Chi Onwurah heard from children who have been working with local employers as part of an initiative to transform learning in the North East.

National education charity the Edge Foundation, have partnered with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to pilot the teaching model in three schools in the region. They invited Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, to meet students and teachers from Excelsior Academy in Newcastle, Norham High School in North Tyneside and Churchill Community College in North Tyneside, who began projects in September last year.

Students in years 7-9 have been learning about subjects like local history, digital technology and sustainability via projects run in partnership with local businesses. The approach encourages children to develop critical skills such as team-working, communication and problem-solving, see the relevance of what they learn to the real world and gives them insight into the world of work.

Chi Onwurah said:

“It was truly inspiring to hear the students talk about their projects; the pride and sense of achievement shone through. I’d like to praise the schools which took part and the dedicated teachers who invested their time. The structure of our economy and the challenges society faces are changing; young people need to be equipped to be active citizens with the skills to succeed in jobs that have yet to be defined. Skills such as problem-solving and team-working, creativity and resilience, promoted by this approach, are what is needed to enable the economy in the North East and beyond to adapt in a competitive and ever changing world.”

Chi saw presentations by the students at a showcase at Excelsior Academy and met teachers and staff from the schools.

Edge Foundation Chief Executive, Alice Barnard, commented:

“We are bringing together all our research, the most robust evidence and best practice pedagogies from the around the world and want to share this with schools in the UK as part of Edge Future Learning. The projects the students did last term have been tremendously successful and the feedback from teachers, students and their parents and carers has been overwhelmingly positive. We want to shout about this and invite other schools in the North East and beyond to join this transformation.”

Neil Willis, Education Challenge Project lead at the North East LEP, said:

“The North East is leading the way in piloting this new approach to learning in our schools and it’s fantastic to be able to demonstrate the impact this is already having on pupils’ engagement and attainment. By bringing schools together with local employers we hope to transform outcomes for young people in the North East.”

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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 www.nelep.co.uk/skills.