Excelsior Young Writers City raise roof at Sage Gateshead

A stunning catalogue of artistic work by the Young Writers City at Excelsior project was brought together and played out to a packed house last night in a fabulous show at Sage Gateshead.

Singing, acting, rapping, poetry and videos capturing many months of work with the New Writing North team showcased the artistic flair of dozens of Excelsior Academy pupils.

Scores of parents, friends and teachers packed the Sage Gateshead venue to watch the youngsters deliver powerful testimonies of what it is like to be a young person growing up in Newcastle.

Their hour-long performance was hailed by seasoned observers as standing comparison with the very best of the illustrious list of big names who have played the iconic venue.

The celebration of the Young Writers City project continues Excelsior’s proud tradition of placing the performing arts at the centre of school life.

Excelsior Academy Executive Principal Craig Taylor said: “It was a great privilege for me to witness the absolutely stunning show at Sage Gateshead last night.

“Without exception, the emotive power, commitment and talent displayed by our young people really was something to behold, and made me feel extremely proud to be part of this wonderful academy.

“A very different show from our ‘Les Miserables’ spectacular, this was raw, stripped back and reliant totally on the power of the words and the outstanding performances of the students.

“The show was the celebration of this year’s work with New Writing North/Young Writers City – which has created an amazing amount of quality work and which has helped unleash and develop some real talent.

“I have been inundated with messages of congratulations and praise from parents, Laidlaw Schools Trust, other school headteachers, arts organisations and councillors.”

Emily Wiseman, Young Writers City project co-ordinator at Excelsior, told the audience: “These students have made this look easy. They have tackled each stage of the project with professionalism and a fire in their bellies that has enabled us to push out the creative boundaries.

“We’ve been embedded into the academy for two years which has allowed us to form harmonious relationships with the staff and students and that’s enabled us to infinitely increase the capacity of the project.

“It is a really remarkable story of participatory arts in the creative and education sector. Its success is the sum of every single person who has contributed to it.

“One of the things that has enabled us to do this is the diversity of the student demographic.

“The background of the students means that we can really add some punch into our writing.  This diversity is like Excelsior’s creative superpower – the students are able to bring their unique qualities and perspectives on the world to enrich the bold and beautiful writing that they create.”

A team of artists, musicians and writers from New Writing North work with Excelsior pupils to tap into their creativity and help them express it through different media.

Craig paid tribute at the celebration to the Excelsior team whose hard work has made the project such a success – Holly Knox, Natalie Bryce, Michael Davison, Michelle Tufnell, Fiona Duncan, Jasmin Jobe, Dermot Mullin, Faith Patterson, Szilvia Winn, Paula Richardson, Debbie Ritzema, Ali Kain, Laura Jackson, Jo Fleet, Louise Old, Deon Krishnan and Rebecca Youens.

South Hylton Primary joins Laidlaw Schools Trust

Pupils celebrate joining the Laidlaw Schools Trust with headteacher Julie Cort and LST chief executive Jane Spence

Sunderland’s South Hylton Primary Academy is celebrating joining the growing Laidlaw Schools Trust (LST) with a determination to deliver even more educational opportunities for its pupils.

The popular academy is home to 334 pupils aged between two and 11 drawn from the surrounding Pennywell, Highfield, Pallion and Ford Estate areas, with 34 staff teaching children from nursery years upwards.

South Hylton Primary is the second Sunderland school to join the thriving LST in this school year – near neighbour Academy 360 in Pennywell joining the trust and its three schools in Newcastle.

For headteacher Julie Cort, joining LST is the chance to share expertise with Academy 360 and fellow trust members, to ensure its pupils enjoy the best possible start in life.

“It presents us the opportunity of working closely as part of an exciting multi-academy trust with proven success in enhancing children’s lives through enriched curriculums,” said Julie.

“The majority of our children go on to Academy 360 so it made good sense that our children were given the same experiences and opportunities – and it allows our staff to work more closely with Academy 360 to follow through our pupils’ journeys.

“We have had positive feedback from parents who trust our judgement as a good school – they have heard about the success of the Laidlaw Schools Trust and how sponsor Lord Laidlaw creates opportunities through his generosity that other schools don’t get.”

South Hylton Primary’s last three Ofsted reports have all rated the academy as ‘good’, with its latest assessment just four months ago.

Jane Spence, LST Chief Executive, said: “We are delighted that South Hylton Primary Academy is joining our growing family of schools.

“We look forward to having a hub of schools in Sunderland in the same way that we have a hub in Newcastle. All the headteachers and staff across the trust work closely together and the children have joint activities and opportunities to learn together.”

In 2008, Lord Laidlaw set up the Laidlaw Schools Trust to give young people in disadvantaged areas of the North East life chances they otherwise would not have.

He invests in improving trust academy facilities and extra-curricular activities.

The LST now educates more than 4,000 children in five North East schools – Excelsior Academy, Thomas Walling and Atkinson Road Primary Academies in Newcastle and Academy 360 and South Hylton Primary Academy in Sunderland.

Gifted Ryan offered Oxford University place

Former Excelsior Academy pupil Ryan Dornan has been offered a place to study at one of the world’s top universities.

Benwell-born Ryan, 18, is the first pupil from Excelsior to secure the chance to study at Oxford University after impressing alumni during an interview process.

Oxford University was rated the world’s top university for 2016-17 by the influential Times Higher Education World University Rankings for its outstanding teaching, research, citations and international outlook.

Ryan has a conditional offer to read Politics, Philosophy and Economics for three years at St Anne’s College at Oxford University from October.

Ryan will be one of more than 700 students at the college founded in 1879, with Fellows’ interests ranging across the Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences, Maths, Physical and Medical Sciences.

A pupil at Atkinson Road Primary Academy before joining Excelsior in 2010, Ryan was an outstanding student in Hadrian School for five years.

He left Excelsior with 4 A* and 5 A grades amongst his 12 GCSEs to take up a place at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh on a scholarship funded by Excelsior Academy sponsor Lord Laidlaw.

At Merchiston he has already secured an A* in A Level Maths and needs two more A passes in Further Maths, Government and Politics or Economics to go to Oxford.

“I’m fairly confident I can go there but not over confident,” said Ryan, who is in the middle of A Level exams in his second year at the exclusive Merchiston school.

“As long as I keep working hard I should be able to do it.” Ryan was also offered conditional places at Durham and Warwick universities and the London School of Economics, but plumped for Oxford after staying there for interviews convinced him it was the place for him.

“It’s beyond belief thinking about it, it just doesn’t seem real sometimes,” said Ryan, who has had a hugely positive response to his news.

“My family and friends were ecstatic – when I came back to Excelsior they said they couldn’t actually believe I was going to Oxford.

“I always enjoyed going to Excelsior, it was always very friendly compared to other schools, the teachers there really inspired my interest in politics by recommending me to read The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph.”

Ryan recognises the support of Lord Laidlaw as crucial in his academic success. “Lord Laidlaw’s offer to come to Merchiston was absolutely fantastic and I don’t think I’d be going to Oxford without it,” he said.

“I don’t think I’d have had the confidence and strength behind me to push to apply – to go through the entrance exams, the business statements and interview route without the independence Merchiston gave me.”

Ryan still travels home from Edinburgh to Scotswood to see family and friends as often as he can.

His mother Lynn Turner said: “I was over the moon and so proud of him, he’s put in so much work to get there.

“He was totally gobsmacked to get into Oxford, but I was even proud of him just going to Merchiston.”

Craig Taylor, Excelsior Academy Executive Principal, said: “Ryan is our first ever pupil to be offered a place at either Oxford or Cambridge University and everyone is very proud of him.

“He is a role model for our students to follow. His success is so well deserved for the sheer amount of hard work he put in at Excelsior and how he has embraced the opportunity of studying at Merchiston.”

Looking to the future, Ryan’s dream is to enter politics after a post graduate scholarship in economics or politics in the United States at an Ivy League university.


Kind-hearted Nikita qualifies as peer mentor

Excelsior College’s Nikita Mills is helping young people overcome difficulties in their lives by becoming a trained peer mentor for local charity Children North East.

Caring Nikita wanted to channel her life experiences and empathetic nature into helping others struggling to deal with personal issues.

She is now qualified as a Level 2 Peer Mentor after passing an assessment and interviews as part of Children North East’s peer mentoring programme – and then spending several months supporting a young girl to work through her personal problems.

Nikita, 18, who is studying Psychology, Photography and Art at A Level, has an unconditional offer from York St John’s University to study for a Counselling, Coaching and Mentoring degree.  She aims to mentor and counsel young people, preferably in a school, as a career.

“This is my first little step to working with young people,” said Nikita. “When I was younger I had counselling, and from then on I wanted to do the same thing.

“I want to give back and help. Knowing you have someone there is massive. For me, it was a massive thing to have someone to talk to about random, silly stuff, which just made a difference.”

Nikita has found her time training to be a peer mentor hugely rewarding.

“It’s been really rewarding for me to see the massive leaps and bounds that the person I worked with has made from when we first met,” she said.

“It has opened my eyes about how much I would be able to be there for somebody; I know from my own experience that people can help but I now know that I can do it.

“I was matched with a young person and for four months met them once a week from about four o’clock until seven o’clock to help them make progress on their goals. I had training and ongoing support from staff at Newcastle Youth Link, a project run by Children North East.

“They learned me the different skills and techniques that I’d need, even the simple things like body language which are massive for communicating with a young person.

“It all depends on the person but there are a lot of different issues that can affect a person. There can be a lot to do with mental health and self-esteem, bullying, home issues, that’s where I step in to be there for them.

“I’m the person who shows them there are other things out there to help. When I took on the mentor’s role I really felt like an adult and responsible for somebody which was a massive thing.”

Being there for someone, listening and helping them work through their problems helped Nikita overcome barriers to her own self-confidence.

“I was so nervous at the start but as time went on I was better,” she said.

“We had our last session in April. They said that I’d helped them and it was really lovely to hear and made me a little upset.”

Ailsa Fenwick, Nikita’s Youth Link Co-ordinator, said: “’Nikita was a great mentor and role model for the young person she was matched with – by giving time and attention Nikita helped her mentee gain confidence and to see her problems in a different way.

“She was definitely a lot happier by the end of the mentoring.  Nikita also grew in assurance and self-belief in her own skills and abilities.  We wish her well and are sure she will continue to make a positive difference to lots of other young people’s lives in her chosen career.”

Donna Harrison, Excelsior College Pupil Welfare Manager, said: “Nikita is an inspirational young woman. She always puts other people first and goes over and above to make people feel confident and cared about.

“She has such an empathetic nature and is truly so compassionate about everything, from supporting students who are being bullied to trying to organise peaceful protests about current affairs. “

The growing Laidlaw Schools Trust family

The Laidlaw Schools Trust family of academies is a growing success story – and it’s easy to see why.

A clear vision from the Trust’s directors for the success of its academies, highly skilled professional staff and the generous financial support of our sponsor Lord Laidlaw, combine to ensure exceptional pupil progress.

The Trust continues to grow with the addition of South Hylton Primary School and Academy 360, both in Sunderland, and Westgate Hill Primary School in Newcastle.

They join Excelsior Academy, Thomas Walling Primary and Atkinson Road Primary Academies, all in Newcastle, as LST academies.

The Trust is looking to grow further, to welcome more schools in Tyne and Wear into the LST family.

If you’d like to learn more about how your school can become an LST academy, please contact our Chief Executive Jane Spence

We will guide you through the process to become an LST academy which will ensure:

· The support of a committed sponsor in Lord Laidlaw who offers generous financial support for each of the academies in the trust.

· The extensive expertise and experience of Laidlaw Schools Trustees in education, school and academy leadership, local authority leadership and DFE experience.

· A professional and committed Board of Directors with in-depth experience of all education sectors.

· The support of the board comprising entrepreneurs, local business leaders, international business leaders, community service leaders and parents.

· A clear vision from the Trust Directors for the success of the Trust and its academies.

· Access to experienced and successful leaders of both primary and secondary sectors.

· The support of our leaders who have wide ranging experience of significant and effective school improvement – leading and managing change, including setting up new schools, setting up a new academy and academy conversion.