North Yorkshire is England’s largest county and home to Catterick Garrison, the British Army’s largest training establishment and the largest garrison in Europe.
Matt blyton web
In recent years the restructuring of army bases and the withdrawal of troops from Germany has led to seismic shifts in military personnel moving into and out of the county.
This has meant more than 2,000 children from service families having left or joined our schools in 2015. Alongside the planned expansion of Catterick and troop movement into the county, there is growing uncertainty among some military families about the recently announced closure of other military bases in North Yorkshire. These changes come on top of the normal movements associated with UK and overseas exercises and training programmes as well as United Nations deployments, which all affect military families.
There are around 3,000 service pupils in the county’s maintained schools - only Hampshire, Staffordshire and Wiltshire have more such pupils - and the current flux presents real challenges for North Yorkshire CC.
There are two main challenges. First we must manage school places in an authority with the most small primary schools in England, which means we must expand a number of schools significantly, while dealing with falling rolls elsewhere. In terms of teaching, learning and wider provision, the council gives considerable support to the personal, social and emotional needs of service children and families coping with mobility as well as anxiety when parents are deployed overseas.
These changes have implications for school budgets, staffing and infrastructure, and for children and their academic and emotional achievement. Last term, Solent NHS Trust trained 24 primary, secondary and council staff as ‘emotional health first aiders’ to support children at risk of emotional difficulties, which could lead to mental health conditions.
The council is recognised nationally for the support it gives: providing advocacy for service pupils and supporting schools to raise standards of achievement for their service pupils.
North Yorkshire has a dedicated team responsible for service pupils’ welfare, which I oversee as lead education adviser. It includes an adviser for vulnerable learners; two service pupil champions who are from military families themselves and a parent adviser. The champions are funded by a MoD grant and their role includes promoting peer support among service pupils and celebrating the contribution they make to their wider communities.
We also have a service families strategy group, which brings together head teachers, educational psychologists, learning mentors and other professionals, the service pupil champions and myself, to discuss current issues.
During the last two academic years I have led two delegations of council officers and head teachers to the German garrisons at Hohne and Gutersloh in Germany where British troops have been withdrawing. We reassured service families moving back to Catterick that North Yorkshire is ready and has a great deal of experience of supporting service children.
Every year we hold an annual service in Ripon Cathedral, attended by around 600 armed forces children and military and civic figures to celebrate the rich diversity service pupils bring to their communities.
In addition, last year the council commissioned a bespoke drama project for primary pupils called ‘Wherever Home Is’, which has now travelled throughout schools in the UK and Germany and helps service pupils to discuss their anxieties.
North yorks pupils at festival of remembrance
North Yorks children Ripon Cathedral
Measuring the impact of all this work is always challenging with mobile populations but our schools’ bi-annual pupil health and wellbeing survey shows considerable improvements for service pupils.
In 2014, there were many negative differences between the results of service pupils and the county average. The 2016 report shows improvements, however, especially at the end of key stage two (the final year of primary school). Service children are now less likely to feel anxious or be involved in risky behaviours than in previous years.
Furthermore, in a recent national survey for armed forces parents that we developed, parents of pupils in North Yorkshire were very satisfied with the support our schools and the council provided.
We are deeply committed to service communities in North Yorkshire. They make an enormous contribution to the county and we have prioritised supporting them and celebrating the diversity they bring as increasing numbers of our service pupils come from overseas.
Matt Blyton, lead education adviser for service pupils, North Yorkshire CC