Colleagues at Learn@ Academies
Making the leap from mainstream to specialist
Paul Kearley joined Notton House Academy in 2018, our residential school for boys with social, emotional and mental health needs, after a long career in secondary schools managing science and maths departments.
At Notton he leads all science, technology, engineering and maths teaching and curriculum developments in school. Without previous SEMH experience he was intrigued by what he could offer in a school like Notton and went along for a fact-finding tour just to see if he should consider specialist.
“On the initial informal tour there was one comment from the deputy head about the boys having so little and that they deserve more that really made me think that this school could be for me. It occurred to me that I could be the person who could bring more to their education.
“Also, I was certainly intrigued by the possibilities of teaching very small groups;. because the class sizes are so small and we know the boys so well I can personalise the curriculum to be just what they need. This is hard to achieve in a mainstream setting with large class sizes, but here at Notton, I know exactly what each student is capable of and can plan to help them make excellent progress.
“Since starting at Notton the challenge is always to have the resilience as a teacher to go back and find another way. I’m constantly trying to reinvent what I’m doing to make sure the boys are engaged and in class. Some of my greatest wins are getting boys, who would have usually walked a mile from the classroom, into every single lesson.
“You’ve got to visit these schools and see what they’re like and see if they could be for you. It’s important to talk to as many of the staff as possible and meet the students.
“So far I’ve found the biggest reward is when I’ve helped boys who have a negative history with schooling and a lot of emotional baggage alongside this to surprise themselves with what they can achieve and to start feeling positive about their education.”
Simon rediscovers his passion for teaching maths at St Matthias Academy
Simon Kershaw joined St Matthias Academy in 2016 on a one-year contract as a class teacher with Maths specialism and is now the Assistant Head at the Brentry site of the Academy.
Simon joined St Matthias after 13 years as a secondary school maths teacher that included stints as a newly qualified teacher mentor, head of KS4 and head of science, technology, engineering and maths.
While it was challenging he found, with regular classes of 34, that he was becoming more like a lecturer than a teacher and was getting tired of the examination treadmill.
"I really made a leap of faith by leaving a secure teaching post to a one-year contract, especially as I hadn't taught in a pupil referral unit before or knew any students or teachers from one. Without doubt I can say it was the best career decision I could have made at the time.
"Even the interview process was a revelation as I was being asked about student wellbeing and not just exam results. Being asked about my views and approaches on student issues, mental health and coping with difficult days was the hook that got me in.
"In my first year at St Matts I really got back to why I wanted to be a teacher. I taught maths and I really got to know the students as individuals due to the smaller class sizes. I often fell back on techniques that I'd learnt and developed at mainstream schools, that helped me to cater for the wide range of learning styles and emotional needs that I have come across in St Matts. This really helps me to get the best outcomes from students and make a difference to their lives.
"You do need to be resilient and to roll with the days that can be unpredictable. The rewards come from small, small steps that can lead to massive improvements for student's self-worth and academic achievements.
"I've also appreciated the camaraderie you can have in a small staff group. At my secondary it was beginning to feel quite lonely as I was always either teaching or in my classroom planning.
"I know that there are immense opportunities here being part of a specialist MAT but the biggest incentive for me is being able to make an impact on students who may have been forgotten by the system."