‘Teachers can only do so much’: Educating Greater Manchester star lifts lid on school’s support system

Channel 4’s BAFTA award-winning observational documentary series has found a new home in Salford’s Harrop Fold School.

Bottle-flipping teacher Simon Humphreys, who appears throughout Educating Greater Manchester, has now lifted the lid on the secondary school and how its strength rests in its student support system.

In September 2016, Mr Humphreys started as the new Head of Geography at Harrop Fold School, in one of the most deprived areas of Salford.

When he first walked through the doors, he had no idea that staff had already voted to allow 60 Channel 4 cameras to be spread out throughout the premises starting from January 2017.

With nowhere to hide from the lenses, except the toilets, his start at the school was a self-professed ‘baptism of fire’.

Now, a year on from his first day in the role and with filming over, Mr Humphreys has been watching as the first episodes of Educating Greater Manchester have gone out and is pleased with the ‘very honest’ image that’s been broadcast to the nation.

REVEALING: The show gives a glimpse at what goes on in schools

The teacher told MM: “It doesn’t hide anything and it shows that schools are not perfect all the time.”

Mr Humphreys also notes how the series has brought renewed respect for the school in the surrounding community and that improvements in the area have occurred with the school ‘at the heart of the change’.

The role Harrop Fold’s Student Development Department (SDD) plays both in its students’ lives and in the wider community is a huge part of this change.

Mr Humphreys believes that this department is such an asset to the school’s framework and to the surrounding community that he would recommend that all education facilities should have one.

He explained: “Our kids do come to us with a lot of issues. Teachers can only do so much.

“[The SDD is] such an important tool. The kids appreciate it and they know they can open up.”

NEW: Mr Humphreys only started with the school in 2016

Each year group has their assigned Student Development staff member and these individuals all have a background in social work and provide professional support to students.

But, as Mr Humphreys tells MM, the duties of the SDD extend beyond the school’s grounds.

He added: “In here, [the students] are safe. We are that bubble. But that doesn’t stop at the gates.”

“It’s very, very rare that a student is naughty for no reason.”

SDD staff go out into the community, getting students into school – by knocking on their doors and getting them out of bed – and providing individual and family support for those who need it most.

Mr Humphreys praised a positive attitude within his school of facing mental health problems head on and encouraging open and frank discussion.

Harrop Fold has a dedicated counsellor, who works closely with the SDD, available to students.

Old trends in the area of staying quiet and suffering in silence are now being tackled both inside and outside the school walls.

The geography expert elaborated: “In the past, people haven’t been honest. Emotional and academic struggles are linked.”

By bridging the gap between home and school, the protective bubble the SDD provides for Harrop Fold students is extended into their home lives, which Mr Humphreys believes is ‘making the difference inside and out there’.

The SDD also support the school’s staff. Mr Humphreys speaks fondly of Mrs Bland, an SDD staff member, who he says is ‘always there as a rock of support’ for him and his colleagues.

The Student Development Department and all Harrop Fold’s staff adopt what Mr Humphreys calls the “ABCD” approach (going Above and Beyond the Call of Duty).

Perhaps other schools could learn a lot from them and their journey. Maybe Harrop Fold really is educating Greater Manchester.

*Educating Greater Manchester airs Thursday at 9pm on Channel 4. 

Images courtesy of Channel 4, with thanks.

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