Helmets from a hero! by Nicola James, Headteacher St Andrews Primary School, Bishop Auckland
During a meeting with Andrew Whitehouse, we managed to make a random link between supporting pupils with ADHD and the Ryan Smith Foundation – don’t ask me how, we just did! (For those of you who know Andrew well, you will fully understand how this can happen.)
Within a week, I was in touch with Mark Smith, Ryan’s father, who promised to send me enough helmets for my upper key stage 2 classes – absolutely free!
I have never spoken to such a humble man in my life. Mark was over the moon to be able to give us the free helmets and thanked us for supporting his cause. When actually, it should be us thanking him!
It was important to me that the children fully understood why they were receiving a free helmet. Handing them out and saying “wear them,” was not good enough. We have many children in our school who come to school on their bikes but I have only ever seen one child wearing a helmet, even though I have harped on about it in newsletters many times. I had to make the children understand.
We gathered the whole school together for assembly, and as the children entered the hall they were met by a great wall of helmets.
Cries of, “What’s in those boxes?” “What are they for, miss?” “Who are they for, miss?” were heard from pupils young and old.
I asked Brooks, an 11 year old boy, to come to the front of the hall.
“What would happen if I touched Brooks’ hair?” I asked the pupils. A gasp resonated around the hall.
“Don’t touch his hair miss!” they cried.
Brooks is well known for having his hair just right and woe betide if anyone messes it! I opened one of the helmet boxes and took one out and handed it to Brooks. I asked him to try it on. He point blank refused. No amount of coaxing could get him to change his mind. He went back to his seat and everyone laughed.
I then showed the children the video clip of Mark Smith on the “This Morning” programme talking about what had happened to his son Ryan. https://youtu.be/Qe7_yQORQBo
The room was met with silence and I stopped the film on an image of young Ryan in his hospital bed – giving the children a few moments to process what they had just seen.
I asked Brooks to come out again and I gave him the helmet again. We didn’t speak to each other; he took the helmet and put it on. The school gave him a spontaneous round of applause. Brooks grinned from ear to ear.
“How come you’re wearing it now Brooks?” I asked.
“I don’t care what my hair looks like miss – I’d rather be alive!” he said.
I don’t think I have ever made a point so clearly as I did in that assembly that day. Staff said afterwards that they had goosebumps.
There was an electric buzz around the hall as the children collected their helmets, tried them on and adjusted their straps. They were proud to show off their new helmets and talked about when they were going to wear them.
That night I posted some pictures on the school website with pictures of the children in their helmets and a link to the film the children had watched in assembly. I invited parents to leave a comment and these two in particular warmed my heart;
Just watched video and my son Kailum come in with his helmet today. I think it’s really good they are spreading the word… the law needs to relook at health and safety rules and make it by law you have to wear helmets like seatbelts in cars… I will definitely be putting my strong head on and making my kids wear helmets while riding bikes/scooter etc I will put my hands up and admit I have let my son out without a helmet in the street playing with his friends- thinking oh he will be fine but it only takes that one second like this poor man’s son … respect to Mark Smith and his family, us Oxley family hope Ryan gets better xx
A huge thankyou for raising awareness – we will definitely be wearing ours to stay safe. From Alisha and Elliot Burnside ps our hairs may be flat but our lives are for living #wearyourhelmet#havefun#behealthyandsafe
Mark Smith is a hero. I can’t say any more than that.
Not only has he inspired a school full of children, potentially saved their lives, he also reminded me just why I love my job so much!
Thank you Mark.
Contact Nicola at