My ATS journey: Helen Wood

Helen Wood is Head of Staff Professional Development at The Loddon School. She explains how completing Advanced Teacher Status (ATS) enabled her to adopt a more external facing outlook, as well as helping improve her resilience and self-confidence.

Read more about Helen's ATS experience from her employer's perspective.

Helen WoodI teach a range of subjects within the context of Special Educational Needs, including autism and positive behaviour support. I also assess and verify vocational programmes, including Team Leading and Management, Education and Training and Residential Childcare.

I graduated from University in 1997 having studied Psychology. I then went on to find work as a Psychology Assistant at The Loddon School, which is a residential school and children’s home providing care and education for children on the severe end of the autistic spectrum. The school is a dynamic and forward-thinking provision where even though the children have significant challenges, they are incredible, and the role captured my heart from day one.

I fell into teaching by becoming progressively more involved in staff training and realising I had a real passion for it. Over a number of years, I provided training for staff at the school, as well as training professionals nationally in the special needs sector. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to contribute to humanitarian aid training, teaching staff working in a range of state orphanages and charitable non-government organisations in Romania and Azerbaijan. In 2009, I became Head of Staff Professional Development at The Loddon School, undertook my assessor and internal verifier qualifications and then gained my Diploma in Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector and Qualified Teacher Learning Skills (QTLS) status in 2012.

My reasons for undertaking ATS

Whilst I was completing my Level 7 Strategic Leadership and Management qualification, I had the opportunity to reflect on my role as a manager and consider my future development plan. I realised that being in a more strategic management role, had to some extent, taken me away from the direct teaching and training that I loved. I was aware that ATS was still in its infancy and it seemed like a good opportunity to use the process to refocus on my teaching role. The fact that successfully achieving ATS also gave automatic eligibility for Chartered Teacher Status was a definite attraction. Working in the post-compulsory sector, I feel quite strongly that Adult Education can be seen as the 'poor cousin' to the compulsory teaching sector and this gave an additional opportunity for parity, which I think is critical for the sector.

How I found the ATS journey

'Journey' is a fitting word for the ATS process, and it should be seen as a long-distance race, rather than a sprint. I suspect that every ATS participant has their ups and downs along the way, and this is natural, as most people who undertake it will have busy and demanding primary roles. The reflective nature of the portfolio provides a real opportunity to evaluate your own practice more deeply and adapt accordingly. The workload is substantial, but not onerous if an organised approach is taken. I found the online workbook to be user-friendly and the evidence requirements clear. I have heard others say that finding the correct mentor is critical and I can’t emphasise this strongly enough. They really do need to act as a critical friend and ideally should have some experience of the process themselves, in my opinion.

My chosen project aligned closely with work-based objectives, which were to improve progress rates for learners undertaking the Level 3 Diploma in Residential Childcare, which is a mandatory qualification that must be achieved within two years of commencing employment in Residential Childcare. As many staff who enter care do so as they are skilled practitioners and many do not consider themselves ‘academic’, government reforms to the qualification have meant that the diploma has become more challenging to achieve for many and is sizeable. The project incorporated a range of strategies, including introducing more rigorous monitoring of progress through the use of data, increasing the creativity of assessment strategy, improving the engagement of line managers and introducing a financial incentive system for interim progress to prevent end-loading and keep learners on track. The impact was tangible and measured through improved completion rates to help compliance with the Children’s Homes Regulations and Ofsted and assisted the school to gain an Outstanding rating across care and education.

The impact ATS has had on my role and organisation

The impacts of undertaking ATS have been wide ranging and overall have helped improve my resilience and self-confidence as a professional. Completing ATS has enabled me to adopt a more external facing outlook with improved professional networking and opportunities for collaboration with others in the sector. This has led to raising the profile of the team and organisation. As with many people who evolve into a more strategic management role, this can take you away from the ‘coal face’ of teaching. Completing the teaching hours to meet ATS requirements was one of the biggest challenges of the course for me, but doing this really allowed me to develop a coaching and mentoring role and teach alongside colleagues, with mutual benefit. Unarguably, the roles of teacher and manager cross over and I believe that the ATS process has provided a framework for improving both aspects of my role and has helped to hold my team to account in relation to learner outcomes as well as increase my own accountability for overall results.

In my opinion, one of the biggest impacts of ATS is that it leads to honest self-appraisal. At times, doing day-to-day tasks can be all-consuming and leave little time for structured reflection, but the ATS process makes this process a requirement. For me, ATS provided a chance to network externally and has led to a number of opportunities to raise my profile and that of the team and organisation by speaking at national conferences, being involved in research and taking more of an active role in a range of professional forums and networks. I have found that there has been a ‘snowball effect’ with more opportunities arising as an outcome and this has had positive impact for myself as a professional as well as the organisation as a whole.

Sarah Jeffrey, Director of HR at The Loddon School

As Helen self-funded the ATS programme, I had little awareness at the beginning what the value for the organisation might be. The course seemed well aligned to Helen’s role and remit and it was natural (given Helen’s seniority and work ethic) that the organisation was willing to invest time in order to support the process, particularly as there was good alignment with organisational objectives. As time went on it became clear that the course provided a real coming together with the strategic leadership and management qualification that Helen had previously undertaken and there was a clear return on investment for the organisation. Knowing what I know about the ATS process now, this offers a clear progression route for those in a similar role who are operating at a strategic level and I believe that this route provides valid professional kudos.

There have been many benefits at a range of levels – for Helen, her team and the organisation as a whole. These have been based on the ATS process providing a framework of reflection which has enabled Helen to redefine her view of teaching and training. This has helped to bring on the wider training team and move the whole staff training piece forward in a strategic way. Having previously focused on further developing her leadership skills and knowledge, the ATS process solidified Helen’s passion for teaching and provided another dynamic, allowing Helen to revisit her teaching credentials focus at a strategic level.

There has been clear positive impact – not just personally for Helen but also for her team and the organisation. I now see ATS as a valid route for someone involved in training in the post-compulsory sector who holds a strategic position. ATS provides a relevant development opportunity within the adult education sector and has been very useful, enhancing existing skills and providing a professional edge through Chartered Teacher Status, which is attractive for the organisation and raises the profile of the training department.

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