North East Teachers SHINE

22nd May 2023

Education charity SHINE has announced the winners for the Let Teachers SHINE awards, including teachers in our region.

Congratulations to Sean Harris, Tees Valley Education Trust and Jonny Foster, Macmillan Academy on winning their awards and securing grants to fund their pilot projects, totalling £43,000.

The news follows the announcement that SHINE is introducing a new £57,000 funded Science project in Newton Aycliffe.


SHINE is an education charity that aims to break the link between deprivation and how well children do in school. SHINE projects have been helping to improve the prospects of children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds across the North of England. SHINE helps to fund projects that back talented teachers, encouraging innovation in education and helping to bring schools and families together.

SHINE and Schools North East ran a partnership in from 2019 to 2022 that funded 8 major programmes in the region working with NEAT Academy Trust, Nicholas Postgate Education Trust, Sacred Heart Catholic High School, Woodham Academy, Endeavour Academies Trust, Ad Astra Academy Trust, Bankfields Primary School and Reid Street Primary School. The funding generated for schools in the NE by the  partnership totalled over £436,000.

Each year, the charity runs its Let Teachers SHINE competition, where they invite teachers to put forward their new project ideas for tackling educational inequality. The winners receive funding and support to help make their ideas a reality.

Let Teachers SHINE

The 2023 Let Teachers SHINE winners have been granted a share of more than £150,000 to bring their proposed projects to life. The projects aim to help disadvantaged children in the North succeed in school. Alongside funding, SHINE provides all winners with free access to a wide range of development workshops and coaching opportunities, enabling teachers to maximise the potential of their ideas.

Jonny Foster from Macmillan Academy wins Let Teachers SHINE for his idea to help GCSE maths and science students

A new website will help GCSE maths and science students by offering them bespoke animated lessons linked to their out-of-school interests – from football to TikTok. The Prodigy site will become a reality after its creator Jonny Foster, was awarded £25,000 from Let Teachers SHINE.

The teacher at Macmillan Academy, in Middlesbrough, says the site will help students – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – to transfer knowledge and skills between maths and science while also making links between school and the real world. GCSE students tend to achieve better in maths than they do in science, particularly if they have lower prior attainment, or are from a disadvantaged background.

Jonny said:

“The research showed me that there is, as I suspected, a disparity between students achieving in maths and in science. My aim is to help close both the gap between maths and science grades and the overall gap in the achievement of disadvantaged students.”

One of the reasons for the disparity is that some students are struggling to transfer their knowledge between the subjects, despite there being substantial overlap between the two. As well as showing how knowledge can be transferred between subjects, Prodigy aims to make lessons fun, interactive and relevant to the students. Jonny added:

“Within the Prodigy online platform, I want to build profiles of the students’ interests, so that we can link questions to their interests. But for teenagers, interests can change very quickly, so I have been surveying students about their interests, which will hopefully make it feel really fresh to the students and not some old, boring platform that doesn’t really relate to them.Some areas of interest change more rapidly than others. For instance, Tik Tok and YouTube influencers regularly fall in and out of fashion.”

Jonny and his developer are working on making elements easily interchangeable so that questions always feel up to date.

“The aim is that it will be possible to change the content very quickly, so that it’s constantly updated. That’s going to be a challenge, but it is something that I think will make a big difference in the engagement and particularly from those students that we really want to engage – those who might struggle to maintain concentration otherwise.”

The aim is to get a simple version of the website up and running in the next year, which will allow testing and refining to take place. If the website proves to be a success, Jonny hopes to introduce it into more schools, and he also hopes to expand it into other subjects.

“The ultimate hope would be that disadvantaged students and those with lower prior attainment want to engage with Prodigy. They want to go on and use it and will spend a decent amount of time on it. The target is to make this the thing that they want to be on.”

On receiving the funding from Let Teachers SHINE, Jonny said:

“It’s amazing to be told that they’re going to back you. Hopefully we can do something positive with it and make a difference with it. I’m both excited and nervous for the next two years because there’s a lot of work to do, but I’m confident that we can do something that really helps students.”

Sean Harris wins £18,000 in funding from Let Teachers SHINE

Inspirational educator Sean Harris in Teesside received £18,000 in funding.

Sean Harris, who is an Ednorth Lead Advocate and the Improvement Lead at Tees Valley Education Trust, a group of schools in Teesside, is one of the eight winners of  Let Teachers SHINE.

Sean plans to develop a curriculum for primary and secondary school students that takes into account the challenges faced by students from low-income backgrounds. He believes that designing a toolkit and a fresh approach to curriculum can significantly enhance its impact and effectiveness.

His strategy involves anticipating potential difficulties that children, especially those from low-income backgrounds, may encounter and incorporating the students’ perspectives to inform the design and implementation of the curriculum.  The aim of this approach is to create a more meaningful and engaging learning experience for all learners.

Reflecting on his experience, he explained:

“Once in an RE lesson, I posed what I assumed was a simple question that I expected my students to know the answer to. To my surprise, one student asked, ‘What’s a British Muslim?’ It was a humbling experience and made me realise how easily we, as teachers, can make assumptions about the prior knowledge which students are using to access the curriculum we teach.”

This experience prompted Sean to initiate a pilot project during school lunchtimes, where he engaged students by questioning them about their existing knowledge and their curiosity about different subjects they were about to study in the upcoming term.

Sean added:

“When I joined the trust, I was able to implement my approach on a larger scale. It really empowered teachers to be able to plan more effectively, with a focus on the needs of children from low-income backgrounds. Our approach encourages a fresh way of thinking about the curriculum and provides a systematic framework for working with the children that has not been utilised before. By taking this approach, we can proactively identify potential challenges for students and provide them with the necessary support. We ask them about what they might struggle with, what questions they have, and how we can help them. This information is then used to inform our teacher planning sessions, ensuring that our lessons are designed to support children in their learning journey. We are not dialling down the curriculum, rather, we are ensuring that children can relate to it in some way and engage with the material on a deeper level.”

After securing funding and support from Let Teachers SHINE, Sean is brimming with ideas on how to allocate the £18,000. The primary focus is centred on working with two diverse primary schools and purchasing iPads for the students. These iPads will enable the children to be actively involved as ‘co-production’ researchers of their curriculum.

In addition, the funding will cover trips to universities, organising a conference for local schools and other trusts they work with, and inviting teachers and children to expand their way of thinking. The goal is to create a comprehensive toolkit that can be shared regionally and hopefully, even nationally.

Looking forward to the future, Sean aspires to develop an easy-to-digest toolkit with children’s voices at the centre, which could be shared with primary and secondary colleagues nationally through various outlets. Sean said:

“I hope to make a practical and actionable toolkit for teachers who are often pressed for time and cannot delve into lengthy research papers. I want to make a framework that teachers can use to discuss with students their existing knowledge on a subject. I feel us teachers are inherently creative, but sometimes our curriculum can be too rigorous and complex. It’s important to engage with students, discover what they already know, incorporate that knowledge into curriculum design, and hopefully challenge any orthodoxies.

I recognise that disadvantage often contributes to gaps in knowledge, resulting in a curriculum that fails to achieve intended outcomes. While I acknowledge there is no silver-bullet solution, I do believe that addressing poverty and disadvantage requires more than just providing food banks and financial support to schools. This toolkit is a potential step towards tackling these issues.”

Reflecting on the funding received from Let Teachers SHINE, Sean said:

“We were overjoyed to find out we had won the funding, especially in today’s climate where receiving grants is highly competitive. However, for us, this goes beyond just financial support. We truly value what SHINE as an organisation represents, particularly regarding social justice and equity. Thus, their investment in our project is a clear indication that they stand behind us and believe in what we are doing.

This grant is not only a boost to our confidence but is also an affirmation that our idea of amplifying the voices of low-income backgrounds children and promoting pedagogy and practice in schools is worthy of recognition. I am thrilled with this opportunity and firmly believe that it is an investment in the education of all children, not just those in our school.”

Passion for Science

The news of the funding follows an announcement in early May that SHINE will fund a project working across County Durham promoting a passion for science. The initiative, led by Woodham Academy in Newton Aycliffe, will improve science education across the town and inspire a new generation of scientists.

The project, which will benefit more than 600 children, has been made possible thanks to a grant of £57,000 from SHINE.

Commitment to Tackling Poverty

SHINE Interim CEO, Dr Helen Rafferty, commented:

“I’m so pleased we’ve been able to support Jonny to develop his idea further. At SHINE, we believe in the power of great teachers and it’s hugely inspiring to see the passion and commitment which continues to exist in places like Middlesbrough, despite the many challenges that teachers are facing. We look forward to supporting the development of Prodigy and testing the impact on students over the coming years.

We are delighted to be supporting Sean to develop a curriculum approach that teachers can use to better meet the needs of low-income students. His personal commitment to tackling poverty represents a strong fit with the values and mission of SHINE and we are very much looking forward to seeing where this can go.”

Chris Zarraga, Director of Schools North East added:

“We are thrilled to hear the news that Jonny and Sean’s proposals were chosen for the Let Teachers SHINE award. We can’t wait to see the ways in which this funding will benefit the students in the region”

Macmillan Academy is a Schools North East Partner School and Tees Valley Education is a Schools North East Partner Trust. If you’d like to find out more about our Partner School Programme click here.

Sean Harris is the Lead Advocate of Ednorth. Ednorth is a programme which is powered by Schools North East and aims to bring together and celebrate teaching practitioners at all levels of their school journey through informed debate, collaboration and excellence. The next Ednorth TeachMeet is next Thursday and will cover the topic of SEND. Learn more about Ednorth here.

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