BACK TO SCHOOL: Children at Abbey Primary ‘Fill the Skies with Hope’ and send a messge to PM Liz Truss over UK refugee policies

Words by Ed King / Pics by Ed King & Abbey Catholic Primary School

“If there is a refugee, we are all going to welcome him or her in our school – because we support refugees and we want more refugees to join our safe and caring and loving country.”

On Friday 23 September, children at Abbey Catholic Primary School in Erdington took part in a nationwide campaign to ‘Fill the Skies with Hope’ and send a message to the newly appointed Prime Minister, Liz Truss, over the UK’s policies on refugees.

The whole school engaged in the special event, making orange paper aeroplanes carrying messages of support and solidarity and sending them into the skies at the same time.

Led by Abbey Principal, Mr McTernan, all children and classes gathered together in the school playground at 2:30pm – launching 420 paper aeroplanes in unison to show the school’s support for refugees and displaced people.

The ‘Fill the Skies with Hope’ campaign – coordinated by the national coalition Together with Refugees – saw schools, community groups, and local organisations across the country make their own paper aeroplanes and launch them in a ‘Day of Action’ on Friday 23 September.

Together with Refugees organised the ‘Fill the Skies with Hope’ campaign to directly challenge the British Government about the colloquially called Rwanda Plan, where people identified by the UK as illegal immigrants or asylum seekers are relocated to Rwanda.

The Rwanda Plan was signed into law by the then Home Secretary Priti Patel, and Rwandan foreign minister Vincent Biruta on 13 April 2022 – with the current Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, now overseeing the scheme.

Together with Refugees was founded by Asylum Matters, British Red Cross, Freedom from Torture, Rainbow Migration, Refugee Action, Refugee Council, and Scottish Refugee Council.

Abbey Catholic Primary School is part of the Birmingham School of Sanctuary Network, committed to ‘promoting welcome, inclusion and awareness of the problems faced by people seeking sanctuary.’ – with the school’s curriculum embracing the issues around refugees and displaced people.

Ahead of the paper aeroplane launch, children from Year 4 had been involved in lessons and learning around refugees all day – including reading Kate Milner’s illustrated children’s book, My Name is Not Refugee.

“It (My Name is Not Refugee) was about a boy who had to flee his country because of war and his mum was saying they will call you refugee,” explained Henry Bradington (4LD).

“At the start we learned what our names mean, so we could not call refugees refugees, but to call them by their name,” told Benedict Abraham (4LD). “I learnt not to label people but to call them by their own names,” added Ava White (4CC)

“We also learnt how people in India, 5 million people, had to flee because of natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, and droughts,” told Victoria Gabriella (4LD).

Year 4 Teacher and Year 3/4 Pastoral Lead, Miss Doyle, added: “We’re a school of sanctuary and they’ve (the children) have been immersed in that entire journey.

“I think it’s so important in this multicultural society not only do they understand refugees and their position, but that they are embracing it and they are welcoming… that they don’t have those stereotypes and are not afraid of it.”

Children at Abbey Catholic Primary ‘Fill the Skies with Hope’ – Friday 23 September

For more on Abbey Catholic Primary School visit www.abbeyrc.bham.sch.uk

For more on Together with Refugees visit www.togetherwithrefugees.org.uk

NEWS: Erdington Skills Centre to review security after “targeted attack” on first day of term

Words by Erdington Local news team / Pics by Ed King

Erdington Skills Centre is reviewing its security measures after a student was stabbed with a machete in the college on the first day of term.

The attack happened inside the college at 3.30pm on Wednesday, 7 September with the victim sustaining a serious hand injury in what the police called “a targeted attack”.

The latest knife crime incident in Erdinton led the Vice Principal of the Edwards Road college to offer staff and students counselling due to its traumatic nature.

Vice Principal of Erdington Skills Centre, Ben Gamble, told Erdington Local the college is now looking to increase security and safety measures.

He said: “We do have security staff based at the centre and they will continue to work from the site.  We are looking to introduce other safety measures and will also be inviting police to come into the centre to talk to students.

“Each year we have a range of support for students and awareness of the impact of knife crime is part of this.”

He added: “Erdington Skills Centre is a thriving and welcoming community on Edwards Road, and we were shocked and saddened by what happened earlier this week.

“We are offering support to any of our staff and students who may have been shaken by the incident and our thoughts are with the person taken to hospital.

“We do have security staff based at the centre and they will continue to work from the site.  We are looking to introduce other safety measures and will also be inviting police to come into the centre to talk to students.”

A West Midlands Police spokesman said: “We were called to Edwards Road in Erdington just after 3.30pm on Wednesday to reports of a stabbing. A 16-year-old boy suffered a serious hand injury when he was attacked with a machete in what is believed to have been a targeted incident.

“He was taken to hospital. One man has been arrested on suspicion of wounding.

The spokesman added: “A weapon has been recovered and will be forensically examined. Witnesses have been spoken to and we are recovering CCTV.

“Anyone with information has been asked to contact us quoting log 2518 of 7 September. Get in touch via Live Chat at west-midlands.police.uk, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555.”

A second suspect was arrested in concerning with the stabbing and both appeared at Walsall Magistrates Court on Friday.

Parents took to social media to voice their concerns about safety at college.

One father posted on the Facebook page of Birmingham Metropolitan College, which runs Erdington Skills Centre, claiming his son was too scared to return to college.

Responding to the parent BMet said: “Police have confirmed that it was a targeted attack and two arrests have been made.

“We have security based at all our colleges as a general safety precaution and the actions of those staff, as well as teaching and support staff at the centre, have been praised by police.

“Security staff will continue to work from Erdington Skills Centre. We are also offering all students 1:1 counselling.”

For more on Erdington Skills Centre visit www.bmet.ac.uk/our-locations/james-watt/erdington-skills-centre or call 0121 446 4545

BACK TO SCHOOL: Abbey Primary School collect bikes for local refugees and displaced people

Words and pics from Abbey Primary School

In an effort to support local refugees, Abbey Primary School are getting involved in ‘The Bike Project’ – to help displaced people coming to Birmingham with travel around the city.

‘The Bike Project’ takes second hand bikes in any condition, fixes them, and donates them to refugees and asylum seekers in Birmingham and London. According to their website, over 9,600 bikes have been donated so far.

Children at The Abbey have been learning about the plight of displaced people around the world and are reaching out to the local community to help them help others through ‘The Bike Project’.

Rebecca Lonergan, a teacher at Abbey Primary School, said: “We are very proud to be a School of Sanctuary and are always looking for new ways we can help support and show solidarity with refugees.

“We have been lucky to meet lots of people with first hand, lived experience of the asylum process and learn about the many issues they face, so when our Year 6 children heard about the charity ‘The Bike Project’ we knew straight away that this was something we wanted to support.

“Life for refugees in the UK can be very hard. Having to learn a new language and culture far from family and friends after fleeing for safety can lead to mental health issues. Alongside this, having to live on less than £6 a day whilst not having the right to work leads to further struggles and isolation.

“The gift of a bike provides free travel, a chance to meet new people and become part of a community, and boosts physical and mental health.”

The Abbey will be opening its doors all day on Friday 17 June, asking anyone with a bike to donate to drop it off at the school.

Rebecca added: “We are aiming to collect 50 bikes and we need our generous local community to help! Year 6 children at The Abbey will be hosting a pop-up donation point on Friday 17 June, from 8:30am to 3pm.

“We will be taking donations of any old bikes – they do not need to be in working order.  Bikes can be any size (including children’s bikes)”.

If you can donate a bike to The Abbey, as part of ‘The Bike Project’, they can be dropped during the day on Friday 17 June at: Abbey Catholic Primary School, Sutton Road, Erdington, B23 6QL

If you have any queries or would like to drop a bike at a different time, please contact r.lonergan@abbeyrc.bham.sch.uk

NEWS: Erdington parents ‘threatened with fines’ for children not returning after half term

Words & pics by Ed King

Ed’s note… The images used in the article are archive pictures of schools in Erdington and ARE NOT RELATED to the people who have supplied quotes or their children.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, or have any updates or developments from a school in Erdington, please get in touch – you can send us a direct message via the Erdington Local Facebook page or email sue@erdingtonlocal.com

As schools reopen after the half term holidays, families across Erdington are being ‘threatened with fines’ if they still feel the classroom is not COVID-19 safe and keep their children at home.

Despite another national lockdown closing the country from 5th November, parents and carers are being told that all young people must go back to school this week – or literally pay the price for any absences.

Birmingham City Council had previously taken the stance to not impose the fixed penalty notices, which had been set by the Department of Education in July, electing to wave the fines for the first half term.

But as school gates open for the last few weeks of the Autumn term, families keeping their children at home could be charged up to £120 for every empty chair they now leave in the classroom.

With increased concerns over the rising cases of coronavirus, many Erdington parents and carers feel they should be allowed to choose what is best for their children – without facing even more debt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Natasha Court has two children at primary school in Erdington, she says: “I believe it is completely wrong that the City Council are threatening parents with fines for actively carrying out their duty of care to protect their children whilst still ensuring they are being educating them at home.

All children need an education, 100%, but a ‘one size fits all’ approach is not appropriate, particularly in the midst of a worsening health pandemic.”

She adds: “I have two children with health conditions who would both be at heightened risks of serious complications should they catch COVID-19. I have my own health conditions too. No matter what schools do, they cannot protect our children in a class of 30.

Fines will hit the financial and mental wellbeing of the families who are already struggling. So the ‘alternatives’ they are left with are to send them to school and be put at risk, or de-register and be let down by the system that is supposed to help ALL children get a strong start to life through education. This is not right nor fair.”

Another Erdington parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I have been threatened with fines from the Council if I now don’t send my child into school.

This is completely unfair. How can they tell me school is safe for my child when they have already had cases in the school?

With cases and deaths rising sharply now all I want to do is protect my whole family, yet I am unable to do that due to potentially being fined.

Attending school during a pandemic should be the parents’ choice to make.”

Schools across Birmingham open for the final weeks of the Autumn term from Monday 2nd November.

As set by the Department of Education in July this year, fixed penalties of £60 can be imposed for any absentee child – increasing to £120 if not paid within 21 days.

Minister for Education, Gavin Williams, announcing fines on LBC Radio (first broadcast on July 29th)

For the latest information on coronavirus restrictions in Birmingham, issued by Birmingham City Council, visit www.birmingham.gov.uk/coronavirus_advice

For the latest information on the lockdown starting from 5th November, issued by Government, visit www.gov.uk/guidance/new-national-restrictions-from-5-november

LOCAL PROFILE: Nikki Tapper

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Nikki Tapper

Erdington Local is proud to support Black History Month. The newspaper will be releasing a local profile piece each week focusing on black members of the community, amplifying these voices and celebrating the richness of multi-cultural Erdington.

Erdington resident Nikki Tapper professes to wear “three hats. Teacher by profession, radio broadcaster and event host.” She is a familiar voice to many local people via radio airwaves, working for BBC WM since 2003.

Her regular BBC WM programme ‘Sunday Night with Nikki’ focuses on ‘stories that matter to the Midland’s African and Caribbean communities.’ Erdington Local explores her varied life as a local personality.

Born in Smethwick, Nikki now lives and works in Erdington. She tells Erdington Local about her experience as a teacher.

I started off lecturing in Business Studies in Wolverhampton for four years. I left there and came to Kingsbury – now Erdington Academy – and taught there five years.” She fondly remembers a student who would call her teasingly call her ‘Miss TT’ after the Audi TT car she owned at the time.

Nikki made the tough leap from mainstream education to teaching at City of Birmingham School, a citywide Pupil Referral Unit [PRU] with sites across Birmingham. In her own words, these are often for “emotionally based school refusers – they struggled with anxiety and had mis-diagnosed learning needs, or were diagnosed with being autistic or ‘on the spectrum’”.

Whilst Nikkiloved teaching” at the PRU, she bemoans the way that young people from difficult backgrounds or with emotional needs continue to get inadequate support – even in PRUs. She feels like the educational system is saying: “if you don’t fit the mainstream setting, then we’ll put you in another setting that will just fit the mainstream setting again.”

Nikki’s work at City of Birmingham School understandably caused her a lot of stress, bringing with it more challenges that a mainstream educational setting.

Nikki remembers one time “one of my students got stabbed and I ran after one of the perpetrators,” and rather boldly “went straight back to work after that.” She also recalls how “last year we had an attempted kidnapping, to do with ‘County Lines’” – the system of recruiting young people to courier drugs and contraband in and out of the city.  

From working in one of the toughest teaching environments, Nikki is now self-employed. She wants to “take how I would like to work with young people, work with them in a small group setting, help them build their confidence and self-esteem.”  

Nikki is also a familiar voice across Birmingham radio, having presented shows on BBC Radio West Midlands for over 20 years. Recently Nikki also presented a six part series called ‘COVID Conversations’ on Newstyle Radio, speaking to ‘people living and working in Black Communities across the West Midlands to understand how COVID has affected their lives.’

Also known for her long running Radio WM show ‘The Gospel Lounge with Nikki Tapper’, she commenced her radio career in Christian radio: “I’m a proud wife, mother, and committed Christian” proclaims Nikki.

She recounts an early job with radio being to “run around Church notices boards in Birmingham noting down service times” – gathering content and information for congregations, announcing on air: “St John’s in Great Barr, Sunday service starts at eleven O’clock, with Bible study on a Wednesday at seven.”

Now a prestigious broadcaster working for the BBC, Nikki thoroughly enjoys working in radio, saying it’s “a great medium to use your imagination,” and a “great way of not having to stress about what you look like. That’s why I tell people I look like Halle Berry!”

In her time as a broadcaster, Nikki has interviewed a high calibre of celebrities, including singer Mary Wilson from The Supremes, poet Benjamin Zephaniah, musician Tito Jackson from the Jackson Five, comedian Sir Lenny Henry, Dawn Butler MP, and one of her favourites DJ Trevor Nelson.

A champion of her city and community, when asked about Black History Month Nikki tells Erdington Local: “I struggle with Black History Month, if I’m honest. Black history is just HISTORY. It’s history across the year.”

She recalls, as a teacher, that “my education and teaching head would say ‘Oh here we go again, we better do black history; let’s put up Martin Luther King, Malcolm X. We didn’t really change the conversation, the rhetoric, we didn’t really look at the curriculum.”

But the agenda of Black History Month is still a relevant one, with the global struggle for, and through emancipation, an ongoing and important conversation. Nikki notes some huge milestones to celebrate in 2020, such as “The National Trust saying ‘actually, 93 of our stately homes have been built by slaves.”

Talking about her personal experience as a black woman, she felt growing up she was “not really valued,” and that the opinion was that “the race that I come from didn’t add anything, other than ‘let you run for my country. Play your music – I love your music – play a bit of Bob Marley.’”

Adding to the narrative, Nikki has a positive call for the future way black history is thought of: “I want people to recognise that actually yes – in the 18th century, 19th century, there were black people that could have been utilised differently, and they were only presented as subservient.”

Erdington Local asked Nikki her thoughts on Erdington itself. “I love Erdington,” she says with a smile. Speaking of its past, she continues: “it was like this little unknown jewel in the north of the city that had this eclectic mix of characters, those who had money, those who didn’t, those who were very creative, those who just wanted to get on with it.”

She expresses concerns, however, for Erdington today: “what I’ve seen change in our part of the city has been neglect for those who really need help.”  She praises the huge efforts by volunteer groups and churches “such as Oikos Church, St Barnabas, the Arts Forum, Standing Ovation,” to make Erdington a better place to live.

With plans for more investment into the High Street, Erdington “could be like Brixton,” suggests Nikki. “Let’s just hope we don’t price ourselves out.”

For more on BBC WM’s ‘Sunday Night with Nikki’, visit www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07pcktr

To find out more about Nikki Tapper, visit www.nt-events.co.uk 

For more on Birmingham Back History Month , visit www.birminghamblackhistorymonth.co.uk

NEWS: Erdington Academy given green light for £6.8m expansion to cater for 300 more pupils

Words by Adam Smith

Erdington Academy has been given the go-ahead to increase the number of its pupils from 900 to 1,200 after Birmingham City Council agreed to inject nearly £6.8 million into the school.

The Kingsbury Road secondary school will be refurbished and a brand new two story teaching block will be built on site – with work beginning next month and completed by Christmas 2021.

The new teaching block will include science labs and prep rooms, a drama teaching space, staff work rooms, office space and new staff and pupil toilets.

Birmingham City Council’s cabinet approved the £6,825,463 capital investment after a report from Dr Tim O’Neill, Director for Education and Skills, which said the authority had “a statutory duty to ensure that there are sufficient pupil places.”

The near £7m bill will be paid for from the Department for Education (DfE) Basic Need Grant and School Condition Grant.

However, consequential revenue costs arising from additional places including additional staffing, utility costs and any on-going day to day repair and maintenance will be the responsibility of Erdington Academy.

Balfour Beatty has been chosen as the construction partner for the scheme and ground is set to be broken at the school on November 23.

Councillor Jayne Francis, cabinet member for education, skills and culture, backed the new investment into Erdington Academy.

She said: “We have a duty to ensure that sufficient school places are available in our city.

Erdington Academy currently has 900 pupils, and the proposal is to expand two forms of entry to 1,200 places for pupils aged 11 to 16 years old.

There’s been a slight delay with planning, so it will be heard toward the end of September and once secured we will be able to carry on with completion of the work.”

Erdington Academy (formerly Kingsbury School and Sports College) converted to an Academy within the Fairfax Multi Academy Trust (FMAT) in 2016.

To find out more about Erdington Academy visit www.erdingtonacademy.bham.sch.uk

For more on Fairfax Multi Academy Trust (FMAT), visit www.fmat.co.uk

FEATURE: Concerns and mixed emotions across Erdington more children go back to their classrooms

Words by & pics by Ed King

From 15th June, more Erdington children will be brought back into their classrooms – as Government guidelines encourage ‘face to face time’ with Years 10 and 12, whilst giving primary schools ‘greater flexibility to invite back more pupils.’

But as the school doors are increasingly creaked open ahead of the summer holiday, parents and carers across Erdington are still voicing their concerns – according to a constituency wide survey conducted by Erdington MP, Jack Dromey.

When asked, nearly two thirds of Erdington’s parents and carers had doubts about their children returning to the classroom – with over 50% stating: ‘I do not think children should be going back and I will not be sending my children back.’

Over half of these fears were rooted in educators being unable to implement adequate physical distancing, with the ever present worry that there would be ‘an outbreak of the virus in school.’

Approximately a third of parents and carers were worried about a ‘lack of PPE and safeguarding’ – with a similar concern expressed over there being no ‘testing available’ for young people returning to traditional education.

But a significant number of parents and carers identified concerns over mental health and wellbeing, with 56% stating ‘Children finding the social distancing measures upsetting / unsettling’ as a pertinent concern.

In response to questions about what would build confidence, around a quarter of parents and carers wanted clearer ‘information’ and ‘understanding’ from both Government and educators – with 56% stating ‘Headteachers, teachers and teaching unions being confident it’s safe’ would help allay their fears and concerns.

However, as voiced by much of the country, a significant fall in new cases reported or the introduction of a vaccine would be the best way to build public confidence – with 73% stating these as the most inspiring sign posts on the road map through the coronavirus crisis.

In response to the findings of the survey, Jack Dromey MP – who has represented Erdington in the houses of Parliament since 2010 – issued a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, addressing ‘the actions that are urgently needed to instil confidence in parents that schools are safe for their children.’

‘There can be no doubt about it,’ the letter continues, ‘we need to ensure a return to school as soon as possible. But crucially, this can only be done when it is safe. Children across the country are missing out on vital education, especially those who are due to take exams this year.’

Erdington Local also reached out to parents and carers across the constituency, asking what school life was like for the children who had returned to their classrooms.

My youngest son went back to nursery last Monday,” tells Sarah Hodgetts – whose son, Harry (4), attends Paget Primary School Nursery.

His school have put so many new procedures in place that I had originally said no but changed my mind and so glad I did. School is very safe and even at age four he understands and follows instruction. His mental health has been the best improvement; he’s a happy child again. 

We’ve gone from him worrying about everything to sleeping well again, wanting to play at home more and more settled in himself, definitely did the right thing allowing him to go back to school.”

Laura Crowley, whose child Jessica Rose (6) went back to Birches Green Junior School on Monday 15th June, tells “I have not long collected my daughter from school. She came out with a huge smile on her face and when asked if she’s has a good day she replied ‘yes’ –  she also said ‘social distancing was fun’ which reassured myself that teachers and staff are trying to make the whole situation a positive one for the children.”

Alongside a “staggered approach to children coming in and out of school using the one way system,” Jessica Rose is also “now in a class of seven rather than 32… called their ‘family bubble’.

All children have their own desks and packs containing any resources they will need for the day, to ensure they’re not touching/sharing equipment. They’re not allowed to take coats into school and are required to be in a clean uniform every day; PE will also be done in uniform to avoid PE bags been taken into school. 

The school communicated all changes very well, on the school website a video was uploaded showing these changes to allow us parents to show these to our children prior to sending them back to school.”

However, local mum Maria Rooney has been keeping her son Billy (5) at home since the lock down began – choosing to continue home schooling and not send him back to Abbey RC Primary Schoolas the medical advice seems to be at odds with Governmental direction. Press have warned there may be an imminent second wave of the virus so we chose to keep Billy at home for the moment.

We start ‘school” at 10am each morning,” continues Maria, “and try to do around 2.5 hours each day with snack breaks in between.

We also have a 4 year old who’s just left nursery so coordinating activities to suit both has been my biggest challenge. We’ve mostly created our own ideas for learning – bugs and habitats in the garden, outer space and our planet – along with the maths apps from school, craft making and art. 

The communications from the school have been adequate and they’d kept us updated as they’ve been updated. I believe the schools don’t know the government’s plans until the last minute – which has been much more frustrating for the school staffing community rather than the parents.”

But whilst parents and carers are making individual decisions about the safety and schooling of their children, one thing seemingly unites them – the need for clearer guidelines from Government and more support for educators, many of whom have been forced into making radical changes to their classrooms with little practical advice.

A clarion call for clarity reiterated by Jack Dromey MP, who states: “I am calling on the Education Secretary, and the Government, to work with the Labour Party to build a cross-party consensus around the return to school that would give parents the confidence that sending their children back is safe. 

We need to end the chaos and confusion and build a unity of approach around the return to school for the good of the nation.” 

For the latest news and developments from the Department for Education, visit www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-education

For more from Jack Dromey MP, visit www.jackdromey.org