Scsn article jamie


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Scsn article jamie

  1. 1. While studying for a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) at the University of Reading, I was required to complete a placement outside the classroom at the end of the course. The diverse nature of this placement ranged from traveling and working in foreign schools, looking into educational opportunities at Marwell Zoo, while others worked in local behaviour units. Thinking where I might be best placed for the three-week placement, I saw an opportunity to work with Services children and their families with a local Buckinghamshire charity called the Service Children’s Support Network (SCSN). Started by Joy O’Neill; a teacher, service wife, mother and school inspector, the literature stated that SCSN works with schools, universities, local authorities, NHS trusts, military organisations, charities and military units across the UK. This cross-agency collaboration was not covered in detail during the PGCE and I was keen to experience it prior to finishing. In addition, the opportunity to work with a small section of society which has experienced ever greater turbulence and instability within their family units over the last 10 years, during the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, was exciting. It is appreciated by many in the Service community that this routine is part of the ‘way of life’ and extremely good support networks and welfare packages now exist for families during operational deployments. However, the effect on children as their parents train for and deploy on operations can, sometimes, be a little harder to quantify and manage. This is where Joy and her team step in and provide bespoke support for each child as they transition through a six- month operational tour, while still managing all the challenges education provides. Once the university informed me that I had been selected to work with Joy as an intern for three weeks, I was contacted immediately and provided with a full programme which included time in schools, courses and meetings with local agencies. The first few days were taken up with school visits and meeting Helen, one of the SCSN coordinators. Sitting in a room and observing Helen, I was struck by the interplay between someone who is outside the family unit but understands the pressures being experienced and how relaxed the children were. Having simple conversations with the children and asking them how they felt enabled Helen to understand where the child was in their feelings and thoughts. The use of toys was an excellent way to get children to relax and be honest about any concerns they might have. She also introduced me to the Passport used by children as they move between schools as a record of their time and achievements, more of which I would be exposed to later in my internship when I met with its designer. Later in the internship I also had the privilege of meeting Emma, another coordinator, and carrying out much the same activities in schools for which she is responsible. The first week concluded with visits to Halton Community Combined School and RAF Benson Primary School. Both schools were similar in that their pupils were predominantly from Service families and served local RAF bases, as well as the local community. The obvious difference was in their geography as Halton School is ‘outside the wire’ of RAF Halton, while RAF Benson School is through the security barrier and very much inside the base. Both schools have over 50% Service families and therefore manage a huge amount of turbulence in postings and operational deployments. As a result the schools have permanent Mobility Coordinators as the need is clearly greater than local primary schools which may have only a few Service pupils. I was extremely privileged to attend ‘circle time’ at RAF Benson, where all those pupils who had deployed parents came together in their own support group to discuss any issues. This humbling experience simply reinforced my view that all members of Service families are robust and selfless in their approach to the unique situation they are in – including the children. To place things in perspective, parents outside the military are rightly concerned with admissions processes and ensuring siblings gain places in the same school. The military system moves families every two years on average and each time the children need to break their friendship circles and start again. This also happens outside normal admissions timings and some families are forced to accept different schools for siblings as a result, with both parents and children knowing this will happen again after another two
  2. 2. years. Once this is realised, it becomes quite obvious why additional support to this small group of people adds significant value to their stability and improves the chances of them fulfilling their educational ambitions. Two useful visits followed to the Child Bereavement United Kingdom (CBUK) charity and a day with members of Buckinghamshire Council Children’s Services Department. CBUK, recently featured in the media after a visit from Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, provide bereavement services to any child in the UK. During the limited time I visited, it was again a hugely humbling experience to observe a charity in action and the work they do to support those who have to deal with difficulties at such a young age. Children’s Services provided an opportunity to visit some Sure Start Centres in a relatively deprived area and see the immense value these services provide to their local communities. The department also booked me onto a day’s course about dealing with systemic questioning and assessing issues within families. While this was primarily targeted at social workers as part of their everyday role, it was extremely interesting and provided me with some useful tools to use as a teacher. In addition, it is always useful to have an understanding of roles and systems which exist outside those of your own profession but have an impact on it, which this certainly will. The final week provided opportunities to meet with the previously mentioned designer of the Passport and an Educational Psychologist (EP) within the Council, Rob Beadel. While the PGCE provides some information on EPs and how they might influence your pastoral role within schools, it is rare that the course provides opportunities to meet and work with one. As a result of this meeting, I was able to ask all the pertinent questions to better understand who EPs are and what they actually do. In addition, it was useful to discuss the Passport that I had witnessed children using and feeding back how this wonderful system provides some continuity and consistency within a Service child’s life as they move. The final activity was a day in Swindon attending a Child Bereavement Workshop. The aim of the workshop was to bring together members of multiple charities who support child bereavement in some way and attempt to consolidate some of the ideas and best practice. It was noticeable that a large number of charities, all doing wonderful things, were doing so in semi-ignorance of the others. The hope was to provide a more coherent service to families who suffer bereavement. Again, while I was more of an observer, it was useful to get a feel for some of the services that exist in the third sector should I, as a teacher, ever need to refer to one for advice or refer a parent. As the three weeks drew to a close, I could not fail to be touched by what I had observed. Many people might think that life is hard for Service children as they are forced to move and make new friends every two years. Many of those children will tell you quite the opposite as they embrace the values and standards held by their parents and will use terms like, “We just get on with it”. Some are lucky enough to be posted to Kenya, where all they want to see are lions, tigers and giraffes – what an opportunity for a 9-year-old! However, there are times when the going is tough and while making sense of your own developing life, you must be forgiven for not adjusting quickly to mummy or daddy being in Iraq, the Falkland Islands, Afghanistan or the USA. However, the self- supporting nature of our Services as a whole is hard-wired into these children and, when times are tough, a supportive hug from a mate is worth ten-times that of your teacher. SCSN provides the environment to enable Service children to make sense of things and should be applauded for doing so. From my perspective, I now feel much better prepared to support children who might require pastoral advice about issues related to Service deployments or bereavement and, more importantly, know that I have an expert on hand to offer advice when that time comes. As a footnote to this article I feel it worth mentioning that just after I finished with SCSN, Joy was rewarded with a thoroughly well-deserved Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts for her time
  3. 3. devoted to Service families. An appropriate honour for an extraordinary lady – my warmest congratulations. Jamie Wilson