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Families Learn BSL at Northern Counties

We absolutely loved seeing parents and family members return to Northern Counties School after a three year gap due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for our weekly learn British Sign Language (BSL) sessions. Among the team who teach the sessions is Mandy, who is the Head Learning Teaching Assistant (HLTA), in the Deaf Department and is a Native BSL user. Mandy also co-ordinates the school’s Signing Choir — which involves all of our talented Deaf students who learn and perform songs in Sign Language.

BSL lessons are hard to come by and can sometimes be quite costly, which makes it difficult for family members to learn the language that their child might use to communicate. BSL is the standard language that is taught at Northern Counties to deaf and non-verbal students, but the school also accommodates for users of Makaton, or those who have their own methods of communication.

Having the BSL lessons at the school provides a comfortable environment to learn a new language with other people, although some are at different stages of learning the language, it is an opportunity to learn a new skill whilst receiving guidance from Mandy, and also from each other.

We’re really pleased that we are now able to offer the sessions again, which have been long-awaited by parents, families and school staff as a result of restrictions in schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. The sessions also offered an opportunity for Wellbeing and Engagement Practitioner, Lorna, who supports the students at the school, to meet parents and family members — who, alongside staff, she also offers support to.

The first lesson which was taught on Tuesday, covered the alphabet and how to introduce yourself in sign language. The lessons are every week, and will cover various different topics in sign language that will be useful to know when interacting with those who are deaf or non-verbal. A step forward to making our language more inclusive.

For more information on the sessions, please contact Mandy at Northern Counties School.

Saving the Planet with MOVE

Pupils at Percy Hedley School have been practising their movement, while learning all about changes we can make to save our planet. From cleaning up our beaches, to recycling plastic and reducing our water usage, each activity linked back to using movement while learning.

This was the schools first collaboration with MOVE on a National level whilst celebrating their annual MOVE day ‘MOVE Saves the Planet!’. Other schools who follow the MOVE programme are also participating in this event across the country this June. The school who demonstrates the most movement opportunities will be gifted £500 towards therapy equipment – fingers crossed we’re in with a good chance!

The MOVE Programme is a functional activity and goal-based programme designed to teach basic functional motor skills to those with complex physical needs. So each activity including things like using hand grips to pick up litter or use fish nets, pincer grips to open and close pegs on a washing line, or gross motor skills like crawling or propelling through the jungle.

Activities also accommodated for speech and language classes, who got involved searching for each climate station on the map, working together to funnel water into a bucket, and planting pots of soil with seeds.

The engagement classes had lots of sensory elements to the programme where they interacted with nature by looking, feeling, reaching throughout all the activities. They used switches to turn on fans, looking for the fish in the sensory sea tunnel and feeling the sand when cleaning the beaches on one of the stations.

There were 11 stations around the school grounds each with a unique way to improve physical development and movement.

MOVE at Percy Hedley School has been running since September. Saving The Planet with MOVE was organised by Mary (Physiotherapist), Sophie (Occupational Therapist), and Tina (Physiotherapist), who are part of the MOVE team, with the aims to curate a fun and interesting way of moving to improve mobility.

Please see full gallery below:

Percy Hedley Girls Football Team win the Cup!

Last week, school teams across the North East congregated at the new Newcastle United Foundation (NUFoundation) Centre for the final rounds of the inter-school football tournament as the school year draws to a close.

The day saw a tremendous effort from our Percy Hedley Girls Football Team on their final match for the school year, after playing superbly throughout the season. The Percy Hedley Girls played 6 matches on Wednesday, and only lost one! A very tough few rounds, as all of the teams were hard to beat – the team were so happy with their achievement.

After playing all morning, everyone was ready for a rest! They headed into Newcastle City Centre for a well earned celebratory lunch.

For anyone who watched the match, you could really see the energy and effort that was put into each game, which is something everyone should be proud for. A great thing to witness for young people within sport, where team effort is key.

We’d like to say a big thanks to Percy Hedley Girls coach, Helen Jackson, for being very supportive and encouraging to all of the team throughout the games and the rest of the school year.

The full team together with Helen

We hope to see more of the Percy Hedley Girls Football Team in the new school year, and we can’t wait to see what is in store for them next year…watch this space!

Check the Images below for the full gallery

Gary at Percy Hedley Pop Up Shop

Gary has done many shifts in our shop and has built on his communication skills by interacting with customers and handing out flyers to promote our social enterprise. Gary took it upon himself during our quiet times to sell sweets created by our ‘Candy Gang’ from outside the shop which brought many customers through the door.

Gary has built on his independence skills by using the till and card machine to serve customers, packing products into bags, stocking shelves, general housekeeping, dealing with money and taking orders from customers.

Gary has become familiar with Manor Walks Shopping Centre and has particularly benefited from having minimal to no support whilst walking around the shopping centre.

He is an absolute natural in the retail sector, his people skills and positive attitude has been amazing to see. Well done, Gary! 

Platinum Jubilee Celebrations across the Foundation

We’ve had weeks of celebrations here at the Foundation as we commemorate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee for 70 years’ service as British Monarch.

Percy Hedley School

Pupils at Percy Hedley School celebrated with a Big Jubilee Lunch before they broke up for half term. The corridors and halls were decorated with bunting and paper chains that students had made themselves while they are gathered to enjoy sandwiches and cakes. Some students dressed up in red, white and blue like the British flag, while others wore crowns they had crafted themselves! There was a real feeling of togetherness, especially after a difficult couple of years.


Residential services had a great time to celebrate the Jubilee. There was plenty of food to go round, with amazing decorations. Residents from Wansbeck had a BBQ in the sunshine, with burgers and party music. Leybourne had a mighty buffet for their jubilee celebrations. Chipchase had the Queen over for the day, and Tyne House went out in the sun. The cupcakes from our residential parties are making everyone else at the foundation jealous of not being in attendance!

Northern Counties School

From making crowns, to painting the Union Jack, Northern counties were up to everything artsy for the Jubilee. There was plenty of activities going on throughout the day – its safe to say there was plenty of red, blue and white paint used. Not to mention having the picnic in the park afterwards, which was lots of fun for students, staff and parents!

College & Horizons

College and Horizons wore some lovely hats to pay tribute for the Jubilee, there was some great contenders that would give Queen Elizabeth a run for her money! Everyone was laughing and smiling wearing their red, blue and white outfits which was a lot of fun.

Please see a full gallery of what everyone across the Foundation got up to, to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee!

Northern Counties School Teacher Finalist for Unique Art Awards

The Unique Art Awards are looking to recognise the work done by teachers in the arts in special education and would like to offer an award to highlight excellence in this field which includes Art, Drama and Music.

Our very own Lauren Tate is a finalist in these awards and will be off to Middlesex in September with a chance of winning £2,000 in vouchers.

Lauren is an Art Teacher at Northern Counties school. Lauren took a learning support role at school initially, to learn more about our very complex young people.  When the opportunity arose to apply for the art teacher role, she was able to step into the role naturally. Lauren did need to learn how to teach using British Sign Language (to Level 2 standard), to enable her to teach in our Deaf department and so she gave up her own time after school, in order to attend classes in BSL.  She also works very closely with our therapy team (Speech Therapists and Occupational Therapists) to ensure she incorporates the right level of structure and correct equipment into her lessons for young people with autism and complex needs.  She has attended a vast amount of additional training in PECS, Autism, Teaching pupils with Visual Impairments, PMLD and Sensory Integration to equip her with many additional skills.

Lauren works across the whole of school and ensures that art is accessible for all.  Some of our young people, who say they ‘don’t like art’, don’t realise they are actually doing art through Lauren’s skills and techniques.  When pupils are unable to transition to her own art room, she takes her lesson and art resources to the child, supporting them to learn where they feel most comfortable and safe.  She is often seen around the school, transporting all her art materials in a trolley!  We see her teaching outside, in school corridors, in the Forest School and she is able to adapt her lessons to the needs of every single young person in school.  She effectively models how to make art accessible to our 200 support staff.  One of the ways in which Lauren goes above and beyond, is working as our sole art teacher, yet having such a large impact with so many staff. Being able to manage such a large number of staff, is way over and above what most teachers need to do. Some of our classes have 15 staff members to coordinate, manage and develop. 

Lauren plans her work and uses teaching styles to engage our young people.  Her methods need to involve a high level of differentiation, choice (for our pupils with Pathological Demand Avoidance) and individualization.  She uses a variety of medias and celebrates each pupil’s achievements through floor books, accreditation and sharing with parents on our social media platforms. Lauren plans for communication, science and numeracy skills across learning tasks and builds up each young person’s self esteem through their art. 

As we were unable to hold our Christmas performance this year, due to Covid measures in place.  Lauren filmed our young people taking part in their own version of Shrek-The Musical, which was broadcast to parents and carers.  This was a huge project, in terms of costume design, sets, use of computing and green screen technology. Mollie’s parents have said that they have never seen Mollie take part in anything like that before and they were thrilled to see her engagement and enjoyment.

Jan, one of our complex non-verbal young people, with autism and OCD, will often just take himself up to Lauren’s art room and sit.  It is the only classroom in school where he will specifically choose to go to complete ‘work’.  He designed his own way of taking part in Shrek, blowing tissue paper flames through a tube to become the dragon.  Lauren edited the film in such a way that all the pupils took part and felt a sense of purpose and pride in their work.

Lauren also gives up her lunch break, once a week, to run the school art club.  She plans a series of fun sessions, which is open to everyone in school.  Another example of how Lauren goes above and beyond.

We wish Lauren every success in her trip to the Unique Art Awards finals in September!

Percy Hedley School competes in Panathlon Challenge

Panathlon is a national charity which gives thousands of young people with disabilities and special educational needs the opportunity to take part in competitive sport. This year, students at Percy Hedley School have taken part in lots of activities. All the activities are skill-based and feature simplified and varied competitions which will develop confidence and self-belief in every individual.

We’re incredibly proud of our students that have been representing Percy Hedley for the Panathlon challenge.

From target throwing, curling, basketball hoops and tennis… a lot of fun was had, while getting active in competative sport!

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