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26 February 2024

Monday Briefing 26th February 2024: Don't Stop

Monday Briefing 26th February 2024 - Dont Stop

As part of my preparations for the Inverness Half Marathon, which I’m due to run in just under two weeks, I went out yesterday morning with the intention to cover a distance of 10.5 km - half of a half marathon, having run 7.5km the day before - a third of the required distance.

I embarked on this run at around 10am - my wife had taken my daughter to Mighty Netball in a village nearby, and I sent her a message to come and join me with Molly when they got back.

Molly has recently started riding a bike with some enthusiasm, and her training ground was the local village common, where a soft astroturf area provided a safe environment to get going, before she graduated to the gravel path which rings the grassy area, and then the local pavements. Tomorrow, she is going to attempt the cycle to school, under my wife’s supervision.

Around 6km into my run, I heard a familiar voice in the near distance. ‘Hello Daddy!’ It was my wife rather than my daughter, but Molly was not far behind on her bike, zooming along with gusto. I continued to loop the circuit, looking over my shoulder from time to time to ascertain where they were on the common.

As I made it round to where my wife was now standing, I waved and puffed out, with a shortened breath, ‘I’m keeping on going - I don’t want to stop.’ I knew that if I slowed down to chat with Katie, it would be difficult to get going as well as I was again - I had built up a good pace and was moving well, so I didn’t want to interrupt my own momentum.

I completed my intended distance, and felt emboldened by the end of the run - both through having finished my planned meterage, and seeing my daughter cycle as well and as quickly as she did.

It occurred to me later in the day that the passage which I had gone through during my run was a similar journey to many of our students - those students who perhaps have struggled to build momentum and keep going, with regards to education.

There is an incredibly popular programme which encourages people to get running called ‘Couch to 5k’. According to statistics from the Department of Health and Social Care, more than 6 million runs were completed on the app in 2022. In a sense, for our students who are trying to get going again, they are going through the equivalent of this, but with a view to becoming fully fledged College students.

In our admissions process, following an initial interview and the completion of admissions tests, followed by a second interview and an accepted offer letter, any in-year joiners to the College go through a two week trial period.

Not a taster day, or a few sample lessons.

Two full weeks to get into the swing of College life: to make friends; to build relationships with staff; to understand the expectations around work; to experience the intimate nature of learning at Ealing.

In the vast majority of cases, trials are successful - in fact, a good example of this has been covered in a previous blog - but they don’t always turn out that way.

Sometimes we have students who simply don’t want to come to the College enough - and it becomes clear that Ealing is not the right environment for them.

One case comes to mind where a student was given this chance by his father against his own wishes. Keen not to move from his friends, he gave little effort during the trial, didn’t bother to complete any homework, and barely interacted with his peers. When I met with his father, who had been led to believe by his son that everything had been going really well, was stunned to hear the feedback from staff. We agreed that it was clear that he was not ready to join - the door would be left open for him, but he’d need to undergo another trial, and that would need to be successful, in order for him to enrol.

Another, I recall, started with us, having made clear that he had left his previous school due to having been bullied. During the two week period, some poor behaviour started to come to the surface, students were rather concerned with the way he spoke to them, and his levels of application were severely lacking. Within a few days, he had been ejected from a lesson and into my office, and my request to gain a full disclosure on his past had arrived. His having been bullied was a fabrication. In fact, it was he who had been told to move on by his former school due to unacceptable conduct. Having shown such a complete lack of moral fibre in lying to me straight away, the trial ended at that point.

These two examples are the only two failures that really stick in my mind. With both, it was right that they didn’t work out - one because of their lack of motivation to get it all moving sufficiently, and another having built foundations on false pretences.

We currently have two Year 9 students on trial with us, soon to be joined by another. All three have had issues at their past schools: bullying for two of them and a lack of awareness of the needs of the other. All three of them have a level of confidence which has been severely diminished. The College, from day one, seeks to replenish the self esteem which has been depleted.

One of the students, last week, was able to manage four days of attendance in school for the first time in years. Where she was incredibly quiet and difficult to read in her first meeting, she smiled, she worked and she started to build relationships. It’s still early days for her, but it is clear that she is trying and she won’t stop trying to put things back together.

Another of the students has struggled to make it in so far, but they have been in one day - and that was positive. Through the struggles and the false starts, we will continue to encourage and welcome the student to the College whilst it is clear that it could work. We won’t give up on someone whilst there is a chance, and so we don’t stop our efforts until the trust is broken or the will to make it work is broken - but that failure of effort will never come on our side.

We have given enough students a chance, who have subsequently turned things around, to see just how life affirming an experience that is for all parties involved. And so we are optimistic with every student who expresses an interest in coming to the College. We don’t and we can’t stop in maintaining that outlook.

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