Day in the life of a head of faculty/special educational needs and disability (SEND) lecturer

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Dimitrios Alexiou joined London South East Colleges in 2014 first as curriculum coordinator, then curriculum manager and now head of the faculty at the Nido Volans (‘Fly the nest’) special needs department based in Bromley. 

What got you into special needs teaching?

I trained as a pastry chef on leaving school didn’t take to it so got a place on linguistics with a literature degree course. In pursuit of a career, I followed up with a masters degree in neuroscience and psychology at UCL. This involved a work placement in specialist schools and pupil referral units to help disadvantaged students make communication books. I started working in schools with permanently excluded pupils facing emotional difficulties and took in colleges around London. 

I worked in forensic units as well, helping students with mental health issues. I then started work as a teaching assistant, got my PGCE, took up lecturing and then moved on. I am now working with SEND learners who have learning disabilities and difficulties. 

What’s your main role as a head of faculty/SEND lecturer 

I run the day-to-day business of the faculty, ensuring our specialist team is focusing on quality teaching and learning and ensuring our students get the very best college experience. I don’t have my own timetable but primarily provide cover for staff. No day passes without something to cover - anything from ICT, personal social development or business enterprise through to travel training and independent life skills.

What’s a typical day?

I arrive around 8.30 am and my key task is to ensure that all lessons are running smoothly. I also visit schools to carry out observations and assessments, liaise with local authorities, and schedule annual reviews for young people’s education healthcare plans. Being extremely flexible is a key quality for a SEND lecturer. You don't use a textbook. There's no convenient curriculum to follow from an awarding body so you primarily have to start from scratch. All our lecturers have up-to-date vocational expertise so they can devise a scheme of learning to meet our learners’ educational needs. We have mixed ability teaching groups of up to nine students in each class - anything from pre-entry to entry 3 level - all our learning is differentiated to meet individual needs.

That’s why I find the job so fascinating - you're not boxed in. The job often forces you to think outside the box and try to be a bit more creative.

What is the FE element you like most?

Seeing young people with the potential to succeed but who lack some of the tools to do it, and then being able to help them reach their goals.

Two or three specific tasks you’ve done recently?

I’ve prepared for quality assessment visits, ensuring all accredited learning will have been completed by the end of the academic year. I’ve also liaised with local SEND schools to promote our courses and Forest School learning facilities. Last week we celebrated being ranked ‘outstanding' after a recent Ofsted inspection. Our team run employability programmes that provide students with opportunities to put their learning into practice and prepare them for future employment. 

What do you enjoy teaching the most?

Supporting students to use voice output communication aids (Voca) and develop their communication skills.

Any recent moments you're proud of?

We won the Shine a Light communications award from Pearson’s and were named 2019 College of the Year. The college focuses on developing communication skills that are expected in the workplace. One of our students who is using VOCA to communicate gained work experience with a local football club and actually interviewed the players. When not at college he had a part-time paid job at Bromley local authority, redesigning the authority’s local offer to make it more accessible to SEND learners. Now he is developing his entrepreneurial skills by setting up his own company.

Personal qualities and skills to do your job?

Flexibility, good classroom management, staying calm at all times – sometimes you need to quickly deescalate situations that are quite challenging for our students. You also need to be IT-literate with specialist software and be trained to meet certain students’ medical needs.

Background and training?

People come from all sorts of backgrounds. It’s all about developing the necessary teaching and learning skills to manage the diversity of learners - skills you get mostly through experience and on-the-job training.

What is one of the big challenges of the job?

Ensuring we complete student consultations within the 15-day consultation period. 

What gets you up the morning?

Seeing and nurturing the potential in a student and then helping them achieve their goals.

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