From one day to the next I don't know what’s going to happen till it’s on my doorstep - we cover all sorts of student behavioural and mental health issues. It’s a very challenging but rewarding role as you see students progressing right up to when they finish studying. You get a unique picture of student life.
Anything from supporting people who might be homeless, behavioural problems, discipline, exploitation on social media through to mental health and depression.
A major concern is around mental health issues that prevent young people/adults from studying. We talk things through with the students, although we make it clear we’re not a mental health service but can facilitate access to professional services across Lancashire. Today, for instance, we had a young man meet with our mental health team of qualified mental health practitioners and assessed his needs … his wellbeing is our main priority.
When a student comes to college, events can trigger things linked to what may have happened at school or at home. We have to ensure we can support them. The toughest challenge is being able to respond to those students with a combination of issues.
I taught business studies and key skills for an independent FE provider for five years. I needed a fresh challenge and moved into a professional development coordinator/tutor role for newly qualified teachers at key stage 1 and foundation year at Trafford local authority. Two years on I switched to Blackburn LA to focus on safeguarding and the pastoral side of children’s services. Then my current post came up, which lets me combine my teaching experience with my safeguarding and staff development work and see things from both sides of the fence.
If a student has any sort of academic or pastoral problem, we encourage them to talk to us. We have a generic team approach where students can talk to an adviser or if it is a serious crisis, we call in the emergency services. I have a team of seven-plus me serving one the largest UK colleges, which caters for some 3,000 HE students alongside its significant FE contingent.
The law classifies under-18s as children so we are legally bound to report abuse to state agencies. We have to encourage young adults to report it themselves.
We’ve had several cases recently … one teenager was homeless, with little money and no support from home. He was struggling to get into college after moving into the area with no family network around him. He also suffered from depression. But one by one we’ve helped him access all the necessary support services to get him through.
We have a steady flow of between 60-80 ‘live’ safeguarding cases per term, such as abuse and forced marriage, and that’s not including around 300 support/pastural role issues annually.
We have significantly changed our structure. In the past year, we have been working much more with multi-agency partners in areas such as support for mental health workers helping young carers, students who may need support next year, and specialist teams handling drug, alcohol and sexual abuse cases.
I gained a (Lifelong Learning) Certificate of Education (FE/HE), level 5 while teaching. During my local authority safeguarding role I studied part-time for a level 7 qualification in Safeguarding Children at Bolton University over 12 months. I also gained Certificates in Management (level 3) and Leadership (level 5) from the Institute of Leadership and Management.
You got to have a degree of emotional intelligence but also a sense of fairness … there will always be students who genuinely need help and so you need to be fair. Yet you also have to be forceful and strident enough when you need to be.
This morning I didn’t attend a regular management meeting because we had two or three serious disclosures from the police about what happened over the weekend. My role is to remain calm and assess the situation; we deal with it as a team.
We can be extremely busy or relatively steady. We do a lot of development work in between, following up cases, referring on or making sure our students have gone to appointments with the agencies. You have to constantly make decisions about supporting students and staff (who are at the front end of any problem).
Another side of my work is personal development, behaviour and welfare, making sure students enjoy being at college and get involved with the right attitudes. I manage three managers and they work with personal tutors. We tell them what the current themes of work are and we link to national days. This week is interfaith week - we are quite a diverse college and we are linking up with local authorities to promote it.
Knowing we are making a positive contribution to students’ lives. The job is really diverse - the amazing thing is I can go from a charity meeting to a lesson observation to a student induction in one day. I think I'm quite lucky, really.
One of the rewarding things is when we help withdrawn students in desperate situations. Then, two years later, they’ll finish with bags of confidence after achieving a lot ,and come back to thank us!