Many years ago I got my first job in a school, I was employed as a performance-data-come-everything else person and it was my first experience of education since I left school myself. It was a tough school in the East End of London, and worlds away from the private convent school I had attended myself. I'd never considered working in education before as I knew I never ever wanted to be a teacher, and I didn't know there were any non-teaching jobs in schools other than the lady in the office I remembered from my youth.
But these were the early post-Workforce Reform days, where all manner of support jobs were appearing in schools, and the data desert of London education was crying out for an experienced statistician. I got the job, but have to admit I felt a wee bit intimidated by the prospect of being in a building with 800 of the East End's finest young men. But the job was a fantastic challenge, so I rolled with it. I never really had a career vocation and slightly envied those who did, but one day I read a piece of student that changed my life forever.
The school produced a weekly newsletter of news and student work, and each week it had a literacy piece entitled "My School Journey", where it featured a piece of written work from a student detailing their journey to school. It was usually a paragraph or two about what time they got up, the route they took to school and the friends they saw along the way. At the time the school had extremely high EAL, very high mobility and some significant literacy challenges. One week, about 8 weeks after I started there, I was picked up the newsletter and read the latest My School Journey extract, this week written by a boy named Yakob in year 8. This is a paraphrased version of what Yakob wrote:
"I came to London 5 months ago from Bosnia. I traveled with two other people from my village but I don't know where they are now. I am living with a foster family in London and they are very kind. I get the bus to school every morning and the bus driver always says hello. We are friends now because he helped me when I was new and didn't know where to get off the bus. I love my school because it makes me feel safe. There are no soldiers. When the soldiers came to my old school they shot my brother and my teachers. I ran home but they had already killed my family as well.
I miss my family very much but I know they would be pleased that I escaped and came to England. My English is getting better but my teacher helped me to write this story down. I will work very hard and get good exams so I can go to college. I want to be a lawyer so I can help people and try and make the world safer. At my new school there are children from all over the world and we are all friends and speak lots of languages together. I would like the world to be like that."
That was my moment. The moment I knew that I wanted to work in education for ever. Everyone who works in schools has one. Teachers probably have hundreds. I've certainly had many since then, but Yakob was the boy who inspired me to train to become a School Business Manager, so I could play my part in providing safe and supportive places for children to learn and succeed. Support Staff might not always be recognized for the part they play in our young people's lives, but there are thousands of us out there, caring just as much, working just as hard, down in the engine room, stoking the boilers, preparing the meals, cleaning the decks, and tending the lifeboats.
So don't talk to me about the financial burdens of immigration, EAL, mobility, mental health, social care on the education system; they are not burdens, they are pathways along which young people can travel to achieve better, safer, happier lives. Essential pathways that need financial support to survive. We'll have to wait and see what state education is left in after the general election, but whatever the outcome, schools, and the people in them, will carry on doing our utmost to offer every support we can to any child who arrives at our doors, whatever their journey.
Last I heard, Yakob had sailed through his GCSEs, flown through 6th form college and had trecked off to university to study law.
Bon voyage my friend.