A day in the life of a Difference Leader

Ellie Doyle, Maths Teacher and Associate Leader, gives an insight into what a day working in Alternative Provision (AP) as a Difference Leader really looks like.

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I was ready for a challenge when I made the move to leave my role as Head of Year 11 at a prestigious London Academy to enrol on the Difference Leaders Programme and spend two years in Alternative Provision. 

Some colleagues, friends and family thought I was crazy. I mean, there were times when I thought I was crazy... But I knew deep down that I was ready for something new. I wanted to drive change.

One half-term into the programme at my new school in Barking and Dagenham and I’ve learnt that no two days - and the emotions that come with them - are the same. 

Take today for example. I’ve met with a concerned parent, attended a staff briefing and stole my first smile of the day from a pupil who I know is having a tough time at home - all before 9am. 

Don’t get me wrong, it was frustrating when only two students turned up to my first lesson. And it’s definitely difficult watching students struggling to control their behaviour, which we tell them is always their responsibility, but which we know is not always their fault.

But it’s the lightbulb moments - the times you watch pupils crack their percentages or start to believe in themselves and talk positively about their future – that stick with you.

Yes, working in AP can have its challenges. But it is ALWAYS worth it. 

As a Difference Leader, we know that high expectations and compassion for pupils are not mutually exclusive. We try to develop the same reflection and evidence-informed practice in supporting pupils’ emotional, social wellbeing and safety as the best schools currently bring to teaching and learning. We aim to create policies that are flexible for our learners’ needs, but maintain high expectations for ALL pupils – especially the most vulnerable. 

So, what do I feel when I look back at my day in school and consider what has been achieved? 

I feel undeniably proud. 

I’m proud of the work the team and I do - not just on this one day, but every time we walk through these doors.  

Today, the two students who did show up at 9am worked incredibly hard, were well-behaved, engaged and showed real progress with their mathematics. 

I enjoyed spending break time playing table tennis with the children, watching them laugh and interact, even though it meant grabbing a quick snack while ‘on duty’.

My 11.15am lesson with year 11s on percentages was incredible. Each and every one of them was focused and determined.  One student was even answering tricky grade five problem-solving questions on compound interest!

Where I once would have complained about an ‘after-lunch slump’, there’s no time for that in AP. This afternoon I was entirely energised after meeting with a year 11 pupil and discussing her plans for the future. While she enthusiastically talked about her upcoming college applications, interest in hair and beauty courses and we discussed her targets for the year, I couldn’t help but think how different her vision for the future could have been. Her progress and commitment to succeed has far exceeded the expectations others would have had for her in the past. Since getting specialist support in AP she has flourished.

As the school day drew to a close, I sat with my tutor group, listening to them talk about their days. I know that the boy who arrived to school late will be frustrated with his detention, while the girl on report has had an incredibly successful day.

Despite today’s highs and lows, I made it clear to them that we’ll all be back tomorrow for a new day, with new opportunities and positivity ahead.

While they walked through the gates and returned to their lives beyond the safety of the school walls, I headed into our daily staff debrief where we share notices on individual pupils, their progress, behaviour and any concerns or insights. 

Following this it was straight into an SLT meeting, some more lesson-planning, responding to emails and before I know it, I’m being gently ushered out of the building by Dave the caretaker at 4pm. That’s right – 4pm!  One of the perks of working in AP I must say!

And now, as I hop into the car, looking slightly more dishevelled than when I got in, I know, that whatever the day threw my way, I really have made a difference.

Ellie Doyle is a Leader at The Difference, which exists to improve the outcomes of vulnerable children by raising the status and expertise of those who educate them.

The Difference Leaders programme is a two year programme designed to train the next generation of school leaders, specialist in improving outcomes for the most vulnerable children.

Recruitment for their second cohort of Difference Leaders will be opening soon - find out more at www.the-difference.com or join us at our upcoming IncludeEd conferences.

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