I started my morning by attending the session ran by Emmanuel Akpan-Iwang, on Care in the Classroom: Applying the European Model of Social Pedagogy. Emmanuel, a champion of looked after children (LACs) was introduced to me a number of months ago by Georgie Porter, the outgoing Teach First President. This introduction was the result of me contacting Georgie as I have spent the last few years developing a project that looks at the support given to Care Leavers (CLs) when they enter Higher Education (HE). I told him briefly of my project, and a number of weeks later we had the opportunity to meet. I heard some of the fantastic work that he was doing, developing his innovation The Lighthouse. So, unsurprisingly, when I found out that he was talking at the Teacher Development Conference I could not pass up this opportunity.
For a breakfast session, I was comforted by the number of participants who attended the session. It was clear that there was a genuine interest in the lives of LACs, and the support they receive. After a welcoming hello, a few sharp sips of a Latte, and a cheeky bite of a croissant, it was all systems go!
Unsurprisingly, Emmanuel did not fail to deliver. He noted a number of key statistics that, for care leavers like myself, are not merely numbers, but stories. Around 24% of prisoners have been in care during a period of their life. This figure is shocking, but alone it leaves only speculation. Nevertheless, when you combine this with the understanding of the all too easy criminalisation of LACs, especially when living in a children’s’ home, it becomes less surprising. In an environment where contacting the emergency services for minor issues is the norm, it is fair to assert that a number of LACs will enter adulthood with a Criminal Record that they may not have had if their living circumstances were different.
Additionally to the residents, there were some key points raised about the institutions themselves:
- 70% of homes are run by private providers
- 11% are in the voluntary sector
- There is a high degree of instability
- The cost of housing a young person is on average £165,000 per year (but can be as much as £500,000).
Without going into each point individually what is apparent is the lack of continuity between these services. Regardless of whether or not you believe privately run homes are a positive or not, such a high figure plants the question to what extent do these services collaborate to ensure that the wellbeing and development of the young people remains paramount?. When you marry this with the high staff turnover, low staff pay, and little professional development, there is definite room for improvement.
So, what is Emmanuel doing? Well, to summarise, Emmanuel is embedding Social Pedagogy (something I need to read more about) into his innovation, The Lighthouse. This development will be based in London and will offer 8-10 children in the care system residential education. He has partnered with a local school, and they will aim to reintroduce the young people back into mainstream education. The staff will be qualified with at least an Undergraduate Qualification, with the possibility to work towards a Postgraduate Qualification through a development programme with The Lighthouse. This means that the young people that Emmanuel will be working with will not only be getting an outstanding education but will have the opportunity to develop the critical skills that they need to equip them to be the best version of them that they can be. I cannot wait to see how this innovation develops.
So where does this leave me and my ideas? Emmanuel is doing fantastic work, but does that mean that I am redundant? In short, no. I joined the Teach First Movement for that very reason, the Movement. I am passionate about improving the lives of LACs and Care Leavers. My own experience of the care system is something that I use as a constant motivating tool, and you should never ignore your motivators.
Nevertheless, the Summer Insititute is tiring, and the first year of teaching will be even more so. When I attended my training to become and Action Network Rep for the East of England, we were softly encouraged to put big ideas on hold, and “get through” the first year.
This is understandable, as I am not a qualified teacher yet, but it started to make me doubt if I had the ability follow my ideas. I felt like my vision had just had its outline drawn just to be placed back in the drawer. But I’m ok with that. Aren’t I?
Well, why don’t you go ahead and ask Simon Cohen?
After the session with Emmanuel, I went to see Simon Cohen, who was leading the session on 198 Ways to Campaign for Change. What a treat I was in for. Simon, an entrepreneur who had worked with people such as the Dalai Lama, that’s right kids, the Dalai Lama. Well, that shut me up. As a quick icebreaker, we came up with ideas that Simon calls “Magic Mangoes”. We were asked to name one thing that we could change in the education system. I, of course, wanted to tackle the barriers that LACs face when entering HE or work. We quickly moved on, knowing that this would make sense soon.
One thing you learn quickly when in his presence, is that he is remarkably open. He speaks with a level of integrity I have not often seen, but what an impact that had. He talked about his business and his work within the campaign that sought to have “Jedi” as a world recognised religion by the United Nations. At first, there were a few chuckles, and I was guilty. But then, the penny dropped. This was not so much about the religion, but about respecting another person’s values without judging them by our own.
From there, the conversation flowed like silk. Without being able to pinpoint a particular source, I was empowered. Empowered in a way that was new to me. I left that session with a smile, and I knew one thing for sure, I can do this!
I spent some time looking at his work, and I came across a fantastic short video where Simon talks about the “magic of words”. He quoted one of the wisest beings, Dumbledore (of course) “Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic. They are potent forms of enchantment, rich with the power to hurt or heal”. This is not just a beautiful quote, but a rich one. I had, by focussing on “getting through”, I had only given myself the expectation to “survive” not to “thrive”.
So, what did I learn? I may not be a mountain, but I can move one. I will not sacrifice my passion or my ideas. If my innovation is designed to help children in care achieve their dreams, then by ignoring it am I not merely another thread woven into the barrier?
I am good enough, I have a dream, I will facilitate change.
So here is my promise to myself. I have an idea that I think can improve the lives of young people. I believe that it has the ability to work beyond a school specific location. I have the passion for driving this idea, and the courage to see it through. I am not an expert, but I will work hard, and I will work with people can help me, because we all need help.
I will go into more detail soon, but first, it’s time to emerge myself into my dream and shape it into reality.
Before I go, I have two things to say:
Emmanuel – Thank you for showing me that people care about looked after children, and leading by example.
Simon – Thank you for making me believe in my passion, thank you for empowering me, and thank you for making the world a better place.