A NORTH-EAST primary where pupils speak 18 different languages has been named alongside schools from Mexico, Nepal and Italy.as a finalist in a competition to find world’s most empathic educational establishment.

Ahead of an overall winner being announced on Saturday, children from Reid Street Primary School in Darlington will present their Empathy Week resilience and diversity-themed projects and face a grilling from judges at an online ceremony featuring teachers and students from around the world.

The award ceremony follows numerous concerns being raised and high-profile campaigns over the last year, such as Black Lives Matter, which seek to promote more empathy in society.

It also comes as the European Union’s police agency announced in its annual report that the pandemic had contributed to polarisation in society, causing attitudes to harden and increasing acceptance of intimidation, including calls to commit violent acts.

Headteacher Paula Ayto said the school had entered the global contest as it presented a chance to rebuild the community following lockdown by helping pupils find things out about each other.

Pupils watched five films over the space of a week which each featured someone talking about a different experience in their life, such as a Chinese-English woman speaking about how she worked with those two cultures.

The children then discussed issues raised in the stories, such as racism, grief, mental health, stereotypes, being a refugee as well as leadership, entrepreneurship, resilience, the power of people, sport, music and empathy.

Ms Ayto said: “We have been here 109 years and the people around the school have changed as time has gone on. We’ve become increasingly ethnically diverse.

“We wanted the children come back into school, get back into the routines and take an opportunity to look at what binds us together, what we have in common, but at the same time celebrate diversity.”

Combining their projects with the North-East Festival of Languages, each class of children at the school produced a virtual book on languages and cultures.

Ms Ayto said while the children had enjoyed producing the virtual books, the project had a clear impact on the children. She said: “The overall idea is that we build a generation who are understanding of other people’s situations and that we all come from different places.

“I’d like to encourage other schools from Darlington, the North-East or anywhere in the country to take this up. It can be as huge or a low-key as you want it to be.”

Ahead of the ceremony, Ed Kirwan, founder of Empathy Week said: “I’m extremely happy to see students thinking about empathy but most importantly acting upon it in their own ways.”