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schoolchildren playing a game at breakfast

Making a difference

Unrestricted grant funding at the Leathersellers' Federation of Schools

23 March 2024
Reading time 7 mins

At the Leathersellers’ Federation of Schools in Lewisham, unrestricted grant funding is helping pupils learn, thrive, and achieve their potential.


Words by Fiona Thompson
Photography by Jayne Lloyd

Schools are facing significant budget squeezes due to declining pupil funding and rising costs. There is less money to go round to pay for additional support and activities, and inevitably it is the children who are already experiencing poverty and deprivation who are the worst affected.

As part of its commitment to improving young people’s social mobility, and alongside other project grants, The Leathersellers’ Foundation has committed to giving £300,000 of unrestricted funds over four years to the Leathersellers’ Federation of Schools. The Federation includes three state schools in South-East London: Prendergast Vale School, Prendergast Ladywell School and Prendergast School.

“By making £25,000 available to each school annually, completely unrestricted, we enable teachers to use the funds for what their students need most,” says Natalia Rymaszewska, Head of Grants at The Leathersellers’ Foundation. “We trust them to choose the initiatives that will have the greatest benefit.”

Niall Hand of Prendergast Ladywell School comments: “As a head teacher, it’s amazing to have a pot of money that isn’t ring-fenced. It means we can identify the areas of most acute need within the school and buy in the services and support that will have the most impact on our young people.”

adult and pupil with craft items on a table

The variety of approaches taken at the schools demonstrates the benefits of this type of funding. “Some projects boost mental health and wellbeing, and some provide career inspiration,” says Natalia. “Others develop academic, personal, social and technical skills through outdoor learning. The outcomes for pupils are wide ranging and universally positive.”

“The support offered by The Leathersellers’ Foundation is particularly valuable during the current cost-of-living crisis,” says Paula Ledger, Executive Headteacher at Leathersellers’ Federation of Schools.

“Many of our pupils are eligible for Pupil Premium and live in families that are at risk of poverty. Thanks to the Leathersellers’ funding, we can provide additional support and experiences that make a huge difference to young people’s ability to learn, thrive and achieve their potential.”

Additional funding was provided in 2022–2023 to trial open access breakfast clubs for all pupils at the schools. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, with staff reporting benefits related to punctuality, attendance, concentration and wellbeing. The Foundation is providing further funds to continue this project into 2023–2024 to allow schools to collect evidence of the effectiveness of the approach, which will enable future funding from the wider community.

schoolchildren working at a desk

Mental health support from Place2Be

Two of the schools are putting Leathersellers’ funding towards services from Place2Be, a children’s and young people’s mental health charity that works with pupils, families and staff in UK schools.

Place2Be provides one-to-one counselling for young people from a dedicated mental health professional, as well as group sessions, advice for parents and carers, and guidance, training and safeguarding support for staff.

“An unhappy child can’t learn,” says Ed Coogan, Head Teacher at Prendergast Vale School, “and in the community we serve there’s a recognised level of need in terms of young people’s mental health, complicated families and ongoing safeguarding cases.

“That’s why it’s so important for us to offer a high-quality counselling and therapeutic service on site through Place2Be. Pupils can discuss issues such as anxiety, exam stress and friendship worries, and we can support families and teachers too. Place2Be works with our pastoral leaders, enabling us to provide a holistic mental wellbeing service to our whole school community.”

During the pandemic, Prendergast Vale School saw a troubling rise in suicide ideation and self-harm among pupils. “Thanks to the support from Place2Be, we’re seeing a downward trend in the more extreme mental health concerns and crises” says Ed. “We can now focus instead on more typical teenage issues such as image and friendships.”

children getting breakfast
children getting breakfast

Breakfast clubs: fuelling young minds

In the last year, Leatherseller support for breakfast clubs has had a significant impact across the Leathersellers’ Federation of Schools.

“We’re delighted that the Leathersellers’ funding is allowing us to offer breakfast to all our students,” says Kelly Lovegrove, head teacher at Prendergast School. “That’s important because some families may not be eligible for Pupil Premium, but may still be feeling the pinch.

“Every day, between 30–40 young people come to our breakfast club. Thanks to this initiative, pupils get to school on time, have a good breakfast, and are then better able to concentrate on their lessons.”

The breakfast club also offers other benefits. “It gives young people a safe space at school, because some don’t have that at home” says Kelly. “In addition, it’s a very nurturing environment. Pupils can play board games together and get to know people from other year groups, so they learn how to build positive relationships.”

Maria, the school receptionist, runs the breakfast club. “She’s absolutely wonderful” says Kelly. “She sees the children every day, which means she’s another trusted adult that young people can feel comfortable with and open up to.”

children looking at vegetables

Forest School takes learning outside

Meanwhile at Prendergast Ladywell School, the Leathersellers’ funding is supporting a variety of projects, including a forest school. This is an educational approach that maximises the benefits of learning outdoors.

“The Leathersellers’ grant has enabled us to engage an external forest school provider who comes in to help our students engage with the environment and work scientifically and creatively to solve problems,” says Niall Hand, Head Teacher at the school. “Every year group from Year 1 to Year 6 gets a day of provision each half term, which works out at six times a year.

“We’re very lucky that our school backs onto Ladywell Fields, which has the River Ravensbourne running through it. Before Easter, Year 6 students were working outside exploring the amount of energy required to use Roman-style pulleys. At the same time, Year 4 pupils were looking at the water cycle in the River Ravensbourne, investigating whether water ran faster on the inside or outside of the channel.”

Raising aspirations

Funding from The Leathersellers’ Foundation is also supporting a basketball coach at Prendergast Ladywell School and two initiatives that aim to raise young people’s career aspirations.

Through Future Frontiers, students in Year 10 are teamed up with employees at City companies, where they receive career information and guidance. This scheme is aimed at students who receive Pupil Premium or who are under-performing and need an extra boost. “This year, we’ve seen a half grade improvement in maths for this cohort on average and a 50% reduction in sanction points,” says Niall.

The school has also engaged with The Brilliant Club, a charity that supports less advantaged students to access the most competitive universities, and succeed when they get there. “This programme challenges our young people academically and inspires them to engage with universities” says Niall. “In the past, postgraduate students from Oxford, UCL and Warwick University have met with our students, talked about their research and encouraged them to present their own university-style research projects.

“This really improves students’ written communication and deeper learning skills. We’ve seen that 69% of students on this programme apply to highly selective universities, compared to 47% of those who aren’t on the programme.”

Immeasurable benefits

The last word goes to Kelly Lovegrove of Prendergast School. “We can of course see the impact that the initiatives funded by Leathersellers have on our pupils’ attainment. But in many ways, you can’t measure the benefit of something like free school meals and mental health support. They make our young people feel safe and valued, that’s something that will stay with them for a very long time.”