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May 08, 2018

My teaching journey – Guy

My first experience of teaching was in a rural secondary school with a broad brief to cover anything to do with citizenship. I didn’t wear a suit; I wore a police uniform complete with body armour and an Airwaves radio murmuring in my ear. I was a PCSO with Warwickshire Police and my brief was to keep the school safe in the belief that happy students make good students. It was a satisfying job and as long as I kept my crime figures low I had complete discretion as to how I developed my role.

I checked in with the learning support unit every day. This was the special room for the challenging students who disrupted lessons but also needed extra help with reading and writing, and patience when they grew frustrated or anxious. Mainstream lessons didn’t suit them and existing in a parallel educational world also set them apart outside of school too. When I patrolled the streets, my colleagues and I would spend our time dispersing the usual suspects of current and ex-students who would inevitably drift together. The younger group idolised the older rebels who broke the rules with abandon, and the older group enjoyed naïve, uncritical attention when their natural peer group had left them behind for jobs and college.

I took a redundancy package when the public cuts began to bite and retrained on the PGCE course. I wanted to help the children who were on the margins, socially isolated and unable to sustain jobs and relationships. I wanted to help children in primary before they became jaded teenagers and left school functionally illiterate and destined for low skill jobs or even worse prison. I enjoyed teaching and having my own class to teach and nurture. I was frustrated by the strait-jacket of aspirational targets in an academy under pressure from Ofsted to improve.

I left the classroom for social work, working with care leavers who have years of disrupted education behind them. As a cohort they have poor educational outcomes, limited social skills, low aspirations and lower motivation, as well as significant mental health challenges. The National Audit Office Report (2015) shows that while nearly a third of all 19-year-olds studied in higher education this compared to only 6% of care leavers. Almost 60% of children who have spent 12 months in care have special educational needs and emotional health challenges compared to 15% in the general population (DofE 2015). Only 14% of looked after children achieved five good GCSEs in 2015 compared to 53% of children not in care (DofE 2014 and 2015).

My Masters is focused on the experiences of looked after children as they bounce through the care system and despite the best of intentions graduate with the poorest of educations. I will sift through their case notes and study years of analysis and planning, then create a narrative that exposes the strengths and weaknesses of their education pathway. Using an ethnographic methodology I hope to find the crisis points where decisions are made that either propel or derail their education so we can improve our planning and support. My goals haven’t changed, I still want to overcome barriers for children and young people in education, but who says I have to be in school?

June 2024

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