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HEADTEACHERS’ PA OF THE YEAR Challenging but rewarding

Continuing our profiles of the winning PAs in the 2010 SecEd

Headteacher’s PA of the Year,Dorothy Lepkowska visits our silver award winner Janet Butterworth and finds out about life in a pupil referral unit


s sCHOOLs go it is more challenging and stressful than most. Working in a pupil referral unit can bring with it a great number of daily problems and difficulties but also some enormous rewards, as Janet Butterworth has found.

“Children are children wherever you work,

and it’s certainly true that our pupils have more challenges than most,” she said. “But they are great young people, who have the potential to surprise you every day with something they do or say, or by achieving something we and they never thought possible. “At the same time, i have only once struggled to

deal with rude or awkward parents since i’ve been here. in my experience, it is often the parents with higher achieving pupils who are a greater problem. so all of this makes it a wonderful place to work and i love it here.”

Union address: ATL They haven’t got a clue

As the cuts start to hit us all, Dr Mary Bousted

says it is increasingly clear that the government hasn’t got a clue

Life is tough and about to get tougher for everyone who works in education, particularly in schools which serve deprived communities. The scale of the government’s cuts is only now being realised. People are waking-up to the fact that supporting cuts in the abstract is one thing, but seeing the effect on them and their family, their colleagues and their pupils, is another. The figures are frightening – £81 billion of

cuts are imminent including to sure start, the Connexions service, Citizens Advice Bureau, the health in pregnancy grant and child tax credit, and the freezing of child benefit. The government justifies its savage attack on

public services with its contention that private sector jobs will replace those lost in the public sector. But there is no current evidence that this will actually happen. At the end of January, the Office of National

statistics’ first estimate of Britain’s growth (gross domestic product) in the final quarter of 2010 showed that the economy had contracted by 0.5 per cent. Although most commentators had expected the

economy to grow more slowly than in the first three- quarters of last year, nobody had expected growth to be negative. Let us be absolutely clear. At present the

government doesn’t have a coherent plan to create private sector jobs to replace those lost in the public sector. it is not offering an alternative to cuts in public services which will leave the poor at the mercy of an economic crisis they did not create and cannot remedy.

so where does education sit in all of this? i was

a guest on a radio talk show on the day of the first reading of the education Bill and was scheduled to follow education minister Michael Gove, who waxed lyrically about the powers in the Bill to give teachers further rights to discipline pupils. Before i was asked to contribute, however, a

teacher named sarah called in. she works in a school in a deprived area of east London. Her views were so powerful that she took my breath away. The presenter invited her to welcome the

government’s drive to make her job easier by making discipline stricter. she declined to do so. she said that her job would become much more difficult because all the services she relied on to help poor and disadvantaged children were being so drastically cut. What, she asked, was going to happen to her

pupils with the reduction in the grant for sure start? What was going to happen to the one-to-one tuition which had been so successful in raising the achievement of some children? What was going to happen to the nurture group in her primary school which was so important in raising the self-esteem, and therefore improving the behaviour, of some of the most disadvantaged children in her school? sarah finished with a devastating point. As a

teacher she could not solve all of society’s ills. she needed professionals from other disciplines to work with her to tackle the forms of multiple deprivation from which many of her pupils suffered. extra rights to keep children in for same-day detentions was not going to fill the gap left when all these other services supporting children no longer exist. i was reminded again of sarah’s words last

week when the government launched a Green Paper on seN. The government wants a more joined- up approach, with teachers working together with health and social workers to meet children’s special needs. How teachers are going to do this when the professionals they rely on, educational psychologists, speech and language therapists, professionals in children and adolescent health, are being made redundant because of savage cuts in the local authority grant is a mystery. The really scary thing is that i suspect the government hasn’t got a clue.

• Dr Mary Bousted is general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Visit

and young people, seeing them grow up and develop, dealing with their problems and yet feeling that huge satisfaction when you see them getting on well and succeeding,” the mum-of-two said. “in the early days after my arrival here i used to

accompany the pupils on outings and trips, for example go-karting or joining them in a game of football, which was a great way of getting to know them and the nature of the school. These days i do much less of this as my job is so all-consuming. “My daughter came to work here for a couple of

months during her gap year before going to university, and the experience actually changed her mind about the career she wanted to follow. she had considered journalism but is now doing a degree in youth and community studies having seen the work that youth workers do with our young people here. “That is the sort of impression working in a school

such as this came leave on a person.” Tracey Healy, headteacher at the centre, nominated

Janet for her award. she said the PRU could be an extremely stressful place to work, but that Janet rose to every challenge. she offered her the job after being impressed with Janet’s obvious abilities in dealing with people in the most trying of situations, as well as her excellent secretarial skills. she explained: “One of the reasons she stood out

among the applicants was because of her shorthand skills. You wouldn’t believe it but those are so hard to come by these days, and in a job like mine we often have to rush through things and get them done quickly.” Her skills with managing people were also apparent

Outstanding: Janet Butterworth won Silver in the Headteacher’s PA of the Year Awards Janet, 47, is this year’s silver Award winner in

the SecEd Headteacher’s PA of the Year competition, which is supported by Unison. she has worked at the Links education support Centre in st Albans, Hertfordshire, for the past three years, after moving

very early on. “Managing the staff to cope with this level of stress is a delicate and important role,” she continued. “Janet is exceptional in her rapport with teaching and non-teaching staff, her ability to listen, be supportive, and act as my eyes and ears so i never miss a staff member’s needs. “she manages employment contracts and issues to

from a mainstream secondary where she was PA to the business manager and other senior staff members during the previous six years. The Links supports 100 young people on-site and

more than 300 others in local schools in the st Albans and Harpenden areas who are disaffected, at risk of, or have been, excluded from school, and who suffer from a range of emotional and other problems, including trauma and abuse. As well as being the aggressors in some cases, often the pupils at the Links are the victims. “i had done a number of administrative jobs during

my working life and most recently had worked in a secondary school as a PA. But i really wanted to be a headteacher’s PA above all else, as i knew this job brought the greatest challenges and i knew it was one i could do well. Unfortunately, those roles don’t tend to come up very often and it was clear that opportunities were going to be very limited in my previous school.”

young people, who have the potential to surprise you every day

‘ 12

with something they do or say, or by achieving something we and

they never thought possible

Janet herself left school at the age of 16, before

deciding to complete her education at evening classes where she learned shorthand and other secretarial skills. Unlike many early school-leavers of 30 years ago, who never wanted to see the inside of the school again, she regretted having to give up her education so early. earlier this year she completed an NVQ Level 3 in

administrative skills and her iCT skills are developing and growing constantly. she continued: “i really wanted to stay on at school

for the 6th-form, but my parents believed i should go out to work as that was the way it was back then, so it was never really an option for me to continue with my education at that stage. instead, i went to night-school and got some more qualifications which i hoped would secure me a better job.” she has held a number of administrative roles

during her working life, including several years with the Halifax building society, but it is working in schools that she loves most. “There is a real buzz about being around children

They are great

do with staff wellbeing which are both vitally important in a school such as this. she keeps me informed of any issues but very often just deals with any issues herself, using her own judgement and initiative to solve problems. As a result, she has the confidence of all the staff. “Another of Janet’s roles is to liaise with schools as

part of the inclusion panel and she shows great patience and compassion in helping teachers from mainstream settings overcome problems and reflect on their practice with individual pupils.” Ms Healy said she had absolute faith in her PA’s

“professionalism and discretion” and that Janet always knew instinctively when to step in during complex and sensitive reconciliations and discussions. “she has a natural ability to sense when a young

person might need a break or just a chat with her,” Ms Healy said. “i can often find, as i return to my office, a very troubled young person who has obviously been distressed sitting next to her at her desk chatting about life while they wait for me. “Or just seeing Janet in the corridor stopping and

asking a pupil how they she can immediately turn a difficult situation around and calm things down. she can also see when something is not quite right and needs intervention, and nothing is ever too much trouble for her.” Janet’s excellent relationship with parents is also

invaluable to the smooth running of the centre. “Janet has enormous compassion, coupled with a calm and supportive demeanour. she is not fazed by rudeness or aggression and can often provide a neutral listening ear. “she is absolutely brilliant in calming people down

and de-escalating a potentially difficult situation with people who are clearly angry or distressed at something that has happened, not necessarily in this school but in their child’s other setting.” she added: “Quite simply, i could not do my

job without Janet, as she also helps me ‘sound-off’ after a stressful or distressing day. she is not afraid to take me to task if she feels i could have managed a staff situation more gently or firmly – all of this with unwavering loyalty, respect, efficiency, humour, sensitivity, and calmness. “Janet embodies the strengths of administrative

teams in any school. she leads quietly, manages the leaders within the school to ensure they have the support needed to help young people, and is truly exceptional at managing parents and other professionals. “We are so proud that she has been recognised for

this work. i also hope this inspires more headteachers in alternative, special schools and PRUs to champion their staff.” Meanwhile, colleagues at the centre were also keen

to congratulate Janet. in a joint statement, they said: “We can always rely on Janet to put in 100 per cent with a willing smile on her face! “Words like reliable, honest, trustworthy,

conscientious and enthusiastic are often banded about too easily, but in Janet’s case they all apply in abundance.”

SecEd • Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education journalist. SecEd • March 24 2011

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