Ask the Expert: Teaching in Alternative Education

Having previously worked in two mainstream schools in Redbridge and Havering, I came to LifeLine with a supply of resources, a decent amount of teaching experience, and a skill-set that had already seen me as Head of Year and as Second in Charge of an English Department in a special measures school.

I was excited to start at LifeLine School because I really didn’t know what to expect, and I liked the challenge and surprise that it might bring. I felt like, professionally, I was equipped to give it a go.

Throughout my entire time here, I’ve found myself having to explain to people that, “No, it’s not a PRU.” and, “No, the students aren’t here for behavioural issues.” But as I go on to explain my role and what kind of alternative provision it actually is, I always find myself beaming at how fortunate I have been to have had this kind of experience.

There is such a wide range of students here, united by a need of education. Many are new to the area, having moved here from abroad or elsewhere in the country. Some know the education system well, some are joining it for the first time. Some are English born and bred, some are adjusting to the language even as they learn. There are those that arrive with an eagerness to try and make the most of their situation. And there are those that freely admit that they struggle in mainstream education, both academically and behaviourally, yet are glad to be a part of LifeLine.

I would not say my job is easy—as the specialist GCSE English Language and Literature teacher, who also teaches Functional Skills English, I’m trying to get my students—most with less than a year in an English school—to achieve their GCSE or Functional Skills qualification, while still making the courses accessible and engaging.

And yet, as a result of the kind of school we are, I end up seeing my students of around twice the amount of time I would have in a mainstream school—and I feel this is one of LifeLine’s biggest successes. I learnt of all their behaviours, all their abilities, and all their issues much faster and in much greater depth.

On top of that, our students benefit from LifeLine’s VIP Mentoring, giving them all something a little bit special. Something missing in most schools. The opportunity to share, talk, network, and receive guidance is something I feel all mainstream schools would greatly benefit from. And as a result of mentoring, our students have so much more to offer, both in lessons and in their own lives.

I’ve seen students, once newly arrived from overseas with little English, now reading a library’s worth of books. I’ve seen students with the most basic writing skills now on their way to being the next Booker Prize winner. I’ve seen students, who wouldn’t have dreamed of sixth form or college, sitting their GCSE exams aiming for just that. And I’ve seen students with new-found ambition and drive because we gave them the foundation and the skills in an environment that’s both focused and intense, and friendly and warm.

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