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Engaging technical learners can break the exclusion-prison cycle

During this years’ GCSE results day, a piece of guerrilla marketing in London brought the exclusion-prison cycle into sharp focus. An unnamed group of students replaced tube maps on the northern line with a mock up showing how learners who are excluded from school could be on a destructive path to prison. Similar reports have indicated that up to 61% of excluded learners could find themselves in this situation.

These statistics represent familiar scenarios for many teaching staff who’ve felt utter helplessness and frustration when faced with a young person full of potential who cannot seem to engage with mainstream education.

Year on year, school exclusions are increasing. This is hardly surprising; with increasing class sizes, heightened pressure on teachers and little time left over for the direct attention, which disengaged learners so desperately need.

There are many reason why learners may struggle to engage; research has indicatedthat around 30% of prisoners have a learning difficulty or disability. There may also be poor support at home, the pressure of being a young carer, a lack of positive role models and a myriad of other factors which create a blockade between potential and the ability to achieve.

The make-up of this particular challenge is complicated and multifaceted, making it incredibly difficult to solve. By no means is there one answer to this issue. However, allow me to pose just one part of the solution, with the help of a living example of a learner who has broken this cycle and found their value through education.

Emma was a learner with a difficult start. She lost her brother, a soldier in Afghanistan, and her grandmother in quick succession. She was angry, disengaged and suffered with anxiety. As a result, her school work suffered.

This led Emma to be excluded from two previous mainstream schools due to her behaviour. Emma was at a crossroads which, unfortunately, is a situation too many young people find themselves in; falling behind and never being able catch up.

Emma was lucky to find herself at Everton Free School, which could have been her last chance at attaining any qualifications to help her move forward post-16.

Alongside the pastoral care that Emma needed, Everton Free School also provided a broad curriculum which introduced Emma to subjects and learning styles with which she otherwise may not have encountered. This was how Emma found her niche and her aspiration to achieve.

Amongst her other subjects, Emma undertook a V Cert in Health and Fitness, a technical alternative to a GCSE, which allowed Emma to demonstrate her knowledge practically. Through her project work, Emma was also able to mend her fractured relationships at home. Emma said: “the qualification enabled me to involve my friends and family and we now all attend aerobics once a week and cycle the Wirral Way. It’s helped build up my relationship with my mum and it encouraged us to change as a family.”

Emma’s reengagement in education has changed her trajectory for the better. Her story shows that learners, when given the right encouragement and diverse subject matter, are far more likely to find their strengths and remove the focus from any weaknesses.

Emma has achieved a place to study at Birkenhead Sixth Form College. She wants to continue learning more about health, the human body and science, and hopes to study Biology, English and PE. It’s her ambition to go on to university and become a Radiologist.

We were delighted to award Emma ‘Learner of the Year’ in our 2018 Aspiration Awards. She embodied the spirit of what achievement looks like to different people. Achievement isn’t always being the best or achieving the highest marks, achievement is entirely personal to every learner.

About the awards

We’ve now launched our second Aspiration Awards, and will be asking schools and teachers to nominate a ‘Learner of the Year’ with big aspirations. The awards were developed to recognise learners who are using NCFE and CACHE qualifications to help them reach their goals and make positive improvements to their life. Find out more and submit your entries here.

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