BBC 500 words comes to Blackpool Gateway Academy

Blackpool Gateway Academy became the host to the BBC film crews, Newsround and North West Tonight all in aid of the BBC 500 words writing competition.
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The opportunity arose as part of Blackpool Gateway Academy's work with the Literacy Trust and local representative from the Literacy Trust Stephanie Wood attended the event in person. The BBC crew brought with them Rhys Stephenson, the CBBC presenter, who also rose to fame in the 2021 series of the popular show Strictly Come Dancing who hosted an assembly for Years 4-6 at the school.

However, the main star of the show was children's author Dan Freedman who rose to fame with his book series centred around a character called Jamie Johnstone, which was later turned in to a popular children's TV show. Dan inspired the children to develop their writing skills, explaining that he also lacked confidence with writing when at school and recommended that children create pieces of writing which they themselves would like to read and which are about topics of interest to them.

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Nicola Makinson, Assistant Headteacher said: ‘The BBC 500 words writing competition encourages children to write for pleasure. Having a purpose and audience for their writing beyond the classroom is a great motivator for children and can really encourage reluctant writers. It is also important to note that the 500 words competition does not focus on spelling, punctuation or grammar because this makes the competition a lot more inclusive. At Blackpool Gateway Academy they have 35% of the school population who have English as an additional language and 31% of the school on the SEND register and therefore removing the barriers which many of these children face is a real positive because there aren’t any barriers to creativity.”

Rear left to right Nicola Makinson, Rhys Stephenson, Dan Freedman. Photo: Fylde Coast Academy TrustRear left to right Nicola Makinson, Rhys Stephenson, Dan Freedman. Photo: Fylde Coast Academy Trust
Rear left to right Nicola Makinson, Rhys Stephenson, Dan Freedman. Photo: Fylde Coast Academy Trust

She also commented that: “There are local challenges faced in Blackpool schools such as the lack of reading or writing materials in the home, parents/carers who don’t have a passion for reading or perhaps can’t read themselves. For this reason, the FCAT schools have engaged with the English Hub in Blackpool and Blackpool Gateway Academy having spent two years on the official 'Reading for Pleasure' journey with Professor Teresa Cremin and implemented a daily reading for pleasure slot on their timetable. The school recognises that reading provides children with new windows into different walks of life; it engages their imaginations and develops their knowledge and understanding of the world.”

Ahead of his visit, author Dan gifted a number of copies of his new novel 'I am Lenny Brown' to the school to read. The novel explores the story of a boy with selective mutism. The school acknowledged that one of the most moving parts of the day was when a child at the school with selective mutism put their hand up to ask Dan a question about the book, showing just how much Lenny's story impacted on the children of the school and just how relatable the story is.

It was a memorable day for all of the pupils and staff. Interviews with the pupils and staff were aired on North West Tonight later that day and will also be shared on Newsround on BBC1 in the coming weeks. The 500 words competition is open for children aged 5-11 and the deadline is the November 10.