These were the words of a parent who was giving testimony to the judges about a contender for the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Pearson Teaching Awards
I was one of the judges, and this brought tears to my eyes. The parent was one of a number whose child had not succeeded in mainstream schools. The children and parents had lost hope, self-esteem and any feeling of self-worth. When Keith Berry, Headteacher of Park Community Academy, an all-through special school in Blackpool, outlined how the school would work with them to develop their children, they didn’t believe him. But each week, they could see their children growing in self-confidence and enjoying school. The school had transformed the lives of the young people and their parents. This is just one reason why Keith is a silver award winner and one of the contenders for the gold award.
At SSAT we have always said “teachers make lives”, but recently I have concluded it is more than that: teachers save lives. I am proud to be a judge and trustee of the Teaching Awards – I hear and see so many wonderful stories of the work of school staff, and the work that schools are doing for disadvantaged young people. This week, my colleague Mike Jones and I visited Manchester Communication Academy (MCA) to research a case study for the deep support pamphlet in our current series on deep social justice. We met the remarkable social investment team led by Patsy Hodson. The team’s attention to detail relating to every facet of a child’s life is designed to ensure “our children will be asset-rich and resilient to the effects of area and personal disadvantage.”
John Rowlands, Headteacher, says that the school “just removes the fences” that stop children learning. The curriculum is poverty-proofed, including: music lessons for all, food parcels for families, assistance with housing, summer school, family zone of 17 schools providing activities for young people and families, toy sacks at Christmas and much more. All the staff at MCA are dedicated to achieving social justice and all new employees have to demonstrate that they have this commitment. We met five young people who are refugees from countries such as Syria and Somalia – the school is their oasis and educating them, but also helping them overcome the horrors that they have experienced. I have no doubt that every staff member is saving and making the lives of young people.
I know that most schools are committed to achieving social justice and this is why SSAT has launched its campaign – Fighting for Deep Social Justice. The first pamphlet in this series will have arrived in your school by now. I know that schools cannot achieve deep social justice on their own, but we can make and are making a difference. As Patsy Hodson said to me: “If only multi-disciplinary teams [which, for MCA, include health, CAHMs, social services, police, housing and parents] could spend their time developing policy rather than rescuing policy.” We need joined-up, cross-government working and this will be part of our campaign.
Thank you for all you do in making and saving young people’s lives. Sadly some young people will not be looking forward to the summer holidays. When we return in September, we will have a new Prime Minister and, perhaps, a new Secretary of State for Education. All parties say they believe in social justice. Let’s help them achieve that essential goal.
Read Sue Williamson’s Fighting for Deep Social Justice pamphlet marking the beginning of SSAT’s initiative to fight for social justice in education.