I’ve been working with young people with additional needs or vulnerable young people for over 10 years, partly because my brother is dyslexic. He was diagnosed very late and attended a grammar school. He’s incredibly creative, but his English wasn’t up to scratch, and it was picked up rather late.
He was badly bullied at school, to the point where he was beaten up and his nose was broken. The severity and extent of the bullying meant that he ended up dropping out of school. The tenacity of my parents meant he was encouraged to not stay at home, so he went to college and met the most amazing teaching assistant who ended up changing his life within the space of three months.
He went from being anxious and depressed; lacking a sense of direction in life to finding and pursuing something he thoroughly likes, which is trees. After studying countryside management at college, he found ways to translate his thoughts onto paper which was initially something he always struggled with. Following that, I was inspired about the way he spoke about her as his hero. I get the sense that he feels that he owes everything to her.
It’s astounding that someone can challenge eight to nine years of schooling in three months and turn a traumatising experience into something amazing. My brother now works for the Forestry Commission because his TA really unhooked and unlocked his potential. I thought to myself that I want to emulate that, because my brother’s journey was so inspirational to me.
Often the young people we meet have been let down and think this will continue throughout their teenage years, so programmes like MoveForward where we are able to create a safe space of support, guidance and allow mistakes to be made and lessons to be learnt, can make the whole world of difference.
As coaches we bridge the gap and help young people get into work and I absolutely love the outcomes. Having only been at ThinkForward for six months, I really believe in the work that we do and the ethos and values of the organisation where we help young people reach their potential and unlock their passions.
A lot of our young people do not think they will succeed in securing a job or career, but as coaches we help them overcome barriers, no matter how big or small to change and create positive destinations for them. I like the relationships you can build with young people, and I think we learn just as much from them as they do from us.
One of my young people, Michael, completed an application for a Royal Mail apprenticeship. He’s 24 years old and he had applied for so many jobs and had never been successful. He was very employable – punctual, team player, good attendance – but struggled to form answers in the interview. But the Royal Mail had a very sensitive approach and were inclusive and it was a warming process to see.
Michael is currently three months into his apprenticeship and loves it. Royal Mail were able to look past a tick box application form and see him for the person he is. SEN young people are frequently marginalised throughout the employment process, so it was a real highlight to see Royal Mail treat Michael so well and set a standard a lot of other places would do well to follow.
I love seeing young people and my cohort isn’t based in just one school, we are all over Kent, and our Costa coffee meetups are the best. I’m passionate about the growth of the relationships with the young people. When they first come in for a one-to-one it can feel quite stiff and official, then the young people start to get comfortable and ease into the safe environment, and there’s more space to find out really what’s going on.
I really love being part of the journey and seeing them change and feeling like we are part of the rest of their lives. We are fostering independence for them to be successful, and I think everyone needs that, whether you are SEN or not. Everyone needs a different staggered approach and different support at different times. I think if we can help young people find out how to get there and break down the steps, then it shows how powerful the MoveForward programme is.
First up is our FutureMe coach Patrice from City of London Academy Highbury Grove in London.
“With my career, I wanted to get into education because I initially didn’t like education – growing up, I didn’t like secondary school and I didn’t like college. From this I wanted to go back and make college and secondary school more digestible for young people, which led to teaching.
I taught for five years and realised I wanted to do more for my disengaged students. I found I was giving a lot of time to young people that didn’t want to be there and not enough time to those that did. I always thought there should be a broker – someone between the young people that didn’t want to be there, their parents and their next step. When I heard about the role of a coach at ThinkForward, I thought it was amazing and a real opportunity to pursue what I wanted to do, as well as help young people.
I enjoy being a coach because you’re witness to incredible change and growth in the young people you work with – seeing young people go through a full 180 change, which often happens in very different timescales with some at the beginning, some during the five years of the programme and some even post-programme. A big drive for me is seeing them blossom and grow and start doing things that they want to do. We teach young people to not give up, and helping them to realise their brilliance is kind of my thing. We’re helping them to realise their worth.
Taking young people out on activities or ready for work events is great. It is such a massive eye opener for them to experience a new environment and thoroughly enjoy it. These visits also reinforce all the key behaviours we try and teach them such as punctuality and attendance within a work environment. I also enjoy my regular one-to-ones, seeing my young people follow and achieve their own set targets with determination and resilience.
A memorable moment for me was one of my young people Sumaya. Sumaya initially struggled with the school environment and faced negative interactions with teachers and disliked school. When she started ThinkForward I saw her flourish with regular one-to-one coaching, hit her work readiness capability targets and enjoy ready for work events.
By the time she left in Year 11, Sumaya was in a completely different space. She achieved high GCSE marks and she was able to carry on further education in sixth form. I’d say she’s been an outstanding person on the programme, and she’s really pushed herself, remaining focused and committed to her future goals which was beyond inspiring to see.
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned, whilst being a coach, is patience. Sometimes that turning point might happen straightaway or it might take a little bit of time to build a rapport. But I never lose faith in the process. There may be setbacks along the way at home or school, but the young people that we work with on our programme are always going through different things, so to be patient and accommodating can make a world of a difference.
This month is Black History Month which shouldn’t be reduced to a month, you should just be teaching every day of the week and every month of the year. I’ve been learning history every day. For instance, I’m named after Patrice Lumumba. He was the first Congolese Prime Minister when the country got independence from Belgium. Tragically, he was murdered as many black activists in the 60s were, but he is my namesake, and without him, I guess I wouldn’t have been named Patrice.
Everything ThinkForward is doing regarding our equalities manifesto and rollout of content for BHM has definitely been a step in the right direction. The big push on the Equality and Diversity training has helped create an equal footing for everyone at the organisation, increasing knowledge, understanding and awareness of important issues which is really good.