The Arsenal Foundation has helped to fund School-Home Support, a charity that works with schools and local authorities to provide personalised support to children and families in an attempt to remove barriers to a successful education.
Our links with the charity go back to Covid, when Arsenal created an emergency fund to help a wide range of local charities support local people in need during lockdown and beyond. Many people struggled, and alongside the adults who lost their jobs, struggled to support their families or suffered with social isolation were children whose education and mental wellbeing was affected by school closures. Back in 2020 we helped School-Home Support to deploy a practitioner, Sam Williams, at Grafton Primary School in Islington. It was a tough time for all, but Sam had the motivation and qualifications to help.
Support in the pandemic
“I spent five years as a primary school teacher before joining School-Home Support in April 2020,” he says. “As a teacher I wanted to play a greater role in supporting the most vulnerable children in my school. I felt SHS offered me a way to help those most vulnerable families, so I jumped at the opportunity to join the charity.
“We helped families in a number of ways during the Covid-19 crisis: delivering Magic Breakfast food parcels, providing home baking kits thanks to a collaboration with a local youth group and supplying Raspberry Pi kits and internet access for pupils to use technology at home, which in turn enabled them to complete school work during lockdown and beyond.
“This helped children feel excited about learning while school was closed and also more confident about returning to school in September when it reopened,” he says. “This support also ensured we were able to promote education and enable consistent learning during the lockdown.”
Returning to some form of normality when schools reopened wasn’t easy for children who had in many cases spent six months at home, and Sam ran pastoral sessions with children most at risk of poor attendance.
“We spend time together discussing emotions, feelings and positive communication,” he says. “One of the girls in the group was finding school challenging and things were tough at home – her mum was struggling to support her six children who all shared the same bedroom and weren’t sleeping well at night. Her mum told me that her daughter looked forward to going to school on the days we had our sessions together, and as a result we saw a dramatic improvement in her attendance.
“We have a big role to play in encouraging attendance and punctuality, and we had to be proactive in ensuring families have access to appropriate support – especially during a time when Covid has had such a huge impact on many aspects of daily life and mental health and wellbeing.”
School-Home Support was even able to help provide Christmas gifts through its partners to some of the children. “These made a massive difference to many children, and especially so when many families were impacted upon financially due to the pandemic,” says Sam.
Keeping up the good work
The cost of living crisis has elongated the worst economic implications of the pandemic, and it is well understood that children from homes struggling for money or suffering social deprivation are less likely to engage with the education system. Thus School-Home Support continues to work at Grafton, with Arsenal’s support.
Their current practitioner is Vanessa Henry, who grew up in Newham but studied in and around north London, including Islington, and who knows full well what many of the children she supports are going through.
“Before I joined School-Home Support I’d been working my way to becoming a probation officer, and I had also worked as an attendance officer for a primary school,” says Vanessa. “I’ve always loved working with young people and families, and I deeply understand the importance of attending school and the impact of missing out.
“I experienced struggles similar to the families I work with on a daily basis, so I felt I could truly empathise. I want to support them to become more resilient. I became a mum at a young age and began a journey into education much later as an adult. In 2022 I graduated with a degree in Education – and at the same time my daughter graduated with a degree in Law.
Vanessa has found that Grafton has a community spirit, which embodies a similar approach to School-Home Support’s “whole family support” way of helping families.
“My role is to ensure I have an open communication with both the child and parents to gain a perspective from both sides,” she says. “Then I can help establish the whole picture and tailor an individualised plan of support.
“I attend coffee mornings, which are a relaxing way to speak with parents and identify their needs. There’s one boy who had a shocking baseline attendance of 67 per cent. I met his mum and was able to help identify her needs and the impact they were having on her son’s attendance. She’s a single parent, lacking confidence in her abilities and struggling to set boundaries. In many ways I could relate to her story and understand her need for emotional support. I believe my role as a practitioner is to help understand the barriers the families face, but also to empower parents and encourage their abilities to support their child’s learning.
“With the children I take a slightly different approach – I observe their behaviour in the playground and introduce myself slowly before interacting with them one-on-one. I’m currently putting together a lunchtime club to help provide a safe space to interact with and further support the children, and answer their needs.
“I’ve worked with lots of families struggling with the cost of living crisis and have supported them in various ways, such as organising a book club where children can book swap and interact with friends. The pandemic has already taken out a huge chunk of their learning and love for reading, so this was a great opportunity to invite the children to see books and reading as a treat and not a chore.
“It’s no surprise that the pandemic caused financial instability, but I’ve also witnessed young people’s confidence lacking and difficulty in social settings,” she adds. “I worked with a family whose young daughter was afraid to go outside, due to the loss of a grandparent during Covid. I signposted the family to a park nearby that had lots of playing facilities and families attending. It was safe and easy to get to, and was helpful in getting the young girl back to working towards regaining her confidence.”
The power of football
“I do believe that football clubs can and should help their local communities.,” says Vanessa. “I know we have a lot of footballers from the inner city who share similar experiences and backgrounds to the families we support. I think it’s important that we let kids know that they need to allow themselves more opportunities, and it’s great for footballers to attach themselves to achievements off the field. They are in a great position to speak to young people about education.”
Sam agrees. “I think it’s really important that football clubs help their community and support charities and groups to make a difference to people’s lives. Football clubs are really influential – you only have to look at what Marcus Rashford has achieved off the field to see the impact and influence that players and clubs have in society. It’s great when that influence is used positively to help make a difference to disadvantaged and vulnerable people.”
And finally, there’s one other person who agrees and can see the value of links between a football club and its community from both sides – a certain Tony Adams MBE. Our legendary captain is a patron of School-Home Support.
“The fantastic work that School-Home Support has been doing for over 35 years really helps children who are living in difficult conditions,” he says. “This is an area which is very close to my heart – I grew up and went to school in London before being signed to Arsenal at the young age of 16. I was one of the lucky ones, but many young people across the UK are growing up with low aspirations and limited opportunities. Every child deserves a decent chance in life. By acting as a patron for SHS, I hope to help more children get the chances they deserve.”
For more info visit schoolhomesupport.org.uk
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