My ATS experience: Penny Taylor

Prior to undertaking Qualified Teaching Learning Skills status (QTLS) and Advanced Teacher Status (ATS), I completed a teaching degree through the Open University and worked across different industries in the sector, including prison services and young offender institutes. I wanted to look at ways I could empower young people through education, so they had the qualifications and skillset to better their own lives.

For me, further education (FE) was a way to access young people who have not always had the best experience in education or the most positive homelife. I wanted to create that opportunity for education to be important in their lives and see how I could work with young people to make them see the benefit of education. I also wanted to teach them the skills they needed to be employable and rounded human beings and to have social values and morals – the skills needed to get along in life.

I was inspired to do ATS because I wanted to continue to develop myself and to make some changes in my own career. I love education, so I found it a positive step forward where I could do different things that not only interested me, but had a focus on how we could empower young people through the research that I did – for my own students and across the college as a whole.


Opportunity to re-evaluate myself as a practitioner

I also felt I needed a challenge to help me to do something different and to look at the ways in which I work. This meant I could make some changes to my teaching, especially because I was delivering the same thing year-on-year. How could I make classes more interesting and exciting? How can we get students to come into college who don’t see college as a full purpose of their lives? How can we make them more successful in progressing to higher level courses or apprenticeships? It was about re-evaluating myself as a practitioner in terms of where I want to be within our organisation, but also what do I want our organisation to do in order to start empowering more young people in different ways.

There were lots of things about ATS I enjoyed, and others I found challenging. Doing ATS while working full time and having a busy home and social life, as well as volunteering, meant there were times where it was difficult. At the same time, there were times where it was enjoyable, and as a practitioner it made me question myself and how we approached things as an organisation. It felt like my colleagues came on the journey with me – we talked much more about what was happening across the college, research and how this impacted teachers and students. Ultimately, it triggered thoughts and created more reflection.

I was lucky to have a good mentor who talked me through my ATS portfolio and helped me to consider the best way to do things. I had many ideas for my project, but I considered the impact that could be made and decided to focus on how food affects learning in the classroom, so for example, do young people work better when they’ve had a proper breakfast and don’t have energy drinks or chocolate? (The latter was the norm – or even having nothing for breakfast.) I understood that lots of our learners came from backgrounds who don’t have the money or means to have a proper breakfast. So, what I did was to introduce a breakfast club where young people could have either toast, cereal or yoghurt.  Some people aged 16 had never even had yoghurt before, so it really opened our eyes up to the lives that these young people were living and how they can be quite different to our own.

I looked at how we could improve their learning by making these changes by doing trials and making notes as I went along. I found that knowing the learners and their backgrounds was a really important part of this. We looked at what we did in the classroom and how that changed when they had a social setting of breakfast, which some of them found quite difficult. I would meet them at the door and take their energy drinks from them and put them on the side;  they soon got used to not bringing them in. I also encouraged them to sit with others to eat and drink, and then we would discuss local and national news. For some of them, that was a strange concept as it wasn’t the sort of thing they were used to doing. For others, it was difficult to eat in front of others, so there were lots of hurdles to overcome.


Focused learning

What I thought was going to be a simple change to implement into the classroom, ended up not being quite so straightforward. The research involved me looking at what learning took place if we came into the classroom and got straight into the lesson, compared to the impact of having a 20-minute session first thing in the morning, where we sat and discussed current affairs and ate breakfast together. The findings revealed that once they had breakfast and a hot drink, they had a much more productive morning. It made for much more focused learning and we had some great conversations and dynamic exchanges about current affairs.

As a result of my research project, other practitioners have taken my findings on board and we now provide kettles and drinks facilities for staff to use in the classrooms. Since completing my ATS, I’ve also got a new role at college and have introduced a scheme where all students get a free hot drink once a week. For a lot of them, this can be the only hot drink they’ve had. We encourage students to use this and they find themselves in a situation where we are all in a room together and they have the opportunity to ask staff questions, find out if they have got the right equipment, and so on. All of this helps to ease their worries – and that’s what I have found the most out from all of this – by encouraging students to engage with people they trust we can get them to do things in different ways. The food has been a part of this, but it has also led into other ways we can support learners who are anxious and who are worried. I feel it has provided college to be a more inclusive place to be.

We have a teaching and learning festival at the end of every year where staff take part in training sessions. Our teaching and learning manager has helped to push me out of my comfort zone and deliver staff sessions in relation to behaviour management (which feels very different to teaching  students). This led me to share my experience across the college of what we had learnt and how we could use that further to continue developing our teaching practice.

Completing ATS has changed my outlook as a practitioner and given me the boost I needed to do something else. I am passionate about everything that I do, so this gave me the opportunity to have a voice to talk about my research with our senior management team and say “this is what we need to be doing, this is how we can do it, and this is the impact of it”. This has been even more important because of changes to the Ofsted Inspection Framework criteria. These soft skills are so important for resilience amongst our learners and how we teach and develop skills in young people.

Advanced Teacher Status Learn more about the ATS programme