I started my career as a youth worker, and although I really enjoyed having an impact on peoples’ lives, I struggled with the lack of measuring and concrete outcomes; I wanted my students to walk away with something, as well as increase their confidence – this is why I knew that education was the route for me.
I have focused my teaching career on vulnerable groups, teaching for the Virtual School for Looked After Children, which meant teaching every age range, and I’ve also taught in a Pupil Referral Unit as well as being a SENCO for Further Education (FE) students with special educational needs. Whilst I was doing my Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills status (QTLS) I was managing a SEND unit and whilst completing ATS, I was teaching Access to Higher Education and the PGCE programme at the College.
Within the college, in the role that I was in at the time, I was an Advanced Practitioner and Course Manager and I was already in a position where I was able to effect change within my department. I had done some research internationally and had my work published, and I knew that my role and skillset was changing. I wanted to spend more time reflecting on what that was and honing my skills, so I felt that by undertaking ATS I would be able to have that essential reflection time.
It was also a really nice way for me to undertake something important and then be able to talk about it with my colleagues, and getting them involved in the process as well. As an Advanced Practitioner, a lot of what we do is to try to encourage other people to want to improve themselves, and this was a nice, but formalised, way of doing it.
The Chartered Teacher Status (CTS) was a bonus in my decision to undertake ATS, but for me, it was less to do with the status and more about the opportunity. The other benefit of it was that I got to have a mentor and I was able to choose somebody new who I hadn’t worked with before in that way. I was in Cohort One for ATS, so there was some uncertainty at times, but when you really sunk your teeth into it, all the materials were there and it was just a case of going through things one at a time.
I forged a strong relationship with the Head of Quality, and I now work in that team, so this ended up being a great alternative for me because prior to that my mentor has always been someone who was more in the research field. It can be quite idealistic when you’re focusing on research, and research only, but then to combine that with the quality side of things gave me quite a balanced overview of the college more widely, and not just my own department and development.
With my research project, we chose to look at peer mentoring. On Access to Higher Education (HE) it’s a single year entry and is an intense course. We decided to support our PGCE students, as well as our Access to HE students, by combining them in order to understand our students and try to come up with a joined-up solution. The Access to HE students needed some peer mentors and the PGCE students needed some teaching hours, so it was a win-win situation!
The project I focused on for my ATS portfolio gave me the opportunity to work with another member of the Senior Leadership team, our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Lead. We worked together to think through some of the issues that we wanted to address in the department. The real focus was about the divide in Access to HE students in terms of their outcomes. Interestingly the awarding body has been doing some research over the last five years and every year it offered the same findings whereby we can tell at the beginning of the course based on students’ postcodes whether they are likely to pass at all, to get a high or a low grade. We wanted to address these issues by combining them and trying to improve the outcomes for all students by picking up on those students, who by postcode alone, might struggle more than other students.
The experience gained completing ATS has already started to have an impact on my organisation and will start to reflect change, especially now I have responsibility for Professional Development across the College Group, which comprises over 1,000 members of staff and 15,000 students. It’s nice to know there’s something out there for Advanced Practitioners who are a bit more experienced and who want to take the next step. Personally, ATS has given me more confidence in lots of ways – with my mentoring, getting other people on board, I’m much more interested in co-creation now than I was before. In terms of being a practitioner, it has given me an avenue to lead my stuff but has also given me confidence in my own skills as well.
"Gaining Chartered Teacher status is just one of the advantages of colleagues pursuing the ATS programme. I believe that completing ATS was a factor in giving Natalie the confidence to apply for a cross-college role and become a more reflective practitioner. The college is now looking at how it will support future cohorts of staff to undertake the programme."