Starting a placement as a teaching assistant through a scheme that helps young people into work has already been life changing for one 20-year-old in Kent.
Fiona Cashman began a six-month paid placement at The Wyvern School – a special school in Ashford that caters for pupils aged three to 19 – at the start of the current school year as part of the Kickstart scheme. The national initiative, which creates new job placements for 16 to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit who are at risk of long-term unemployment, is being promoted widely in the county, including by the Reconnect: Kent Children and Young People programme. The KCC-led community programme aims to help children and young people reconnect with aspects of their lives that have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and one of its five aims focuses on promoting economic well-being and boosting young people’s employment potential.
Fiona is one of 19 young people in Kent who started a teaching assistant placement at a school for pupils with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND) this September; 13 more are preparing to start. There are currently 19 additional teaching assistant places available at SEND schools and a further 11 in mainstream schools, but the placements must be started before the end of March 2022. Although the Kickstart scheme is aimed at 16-24-year-olds, participants must be 18 to start a placement in a school.
Fiona, who lives in Ashford and went to school and college in Canterbury, said: “It’s always been my dream job to work with children. I wanted to work in a nursery but when I heard about this I thought I’d give it a go and now I’d never change it. It’s changed my life to be honest.”
Fiona was told about Kickstart by her Jobcentre Plus work coach and after a four-day trial and an interview she was offered the placement. She now spends three days a week working as a teaching assistant at The Wyvern School and one day at home doing online learning via Tonbridge-based company Runway Training. The 26-week online training programme covers aspects such as safeguarding, ICT, education and development, mental health, and understanding learning needs and difficulties, and will lead to a Level 1 Award in Preparing to Work in Schools. The placements and associated qualifications are designed to boost young people’s CVs and increase their employment potential, and, in many cases, it is hoped they will be offered a permanent job at the school they are based in.
Fiona said: “I work with children in Years 1, 2 and 3 and I do quite a lot of things. I look after them in the playground, help them get ready for lunch, break, and snack times, and help them to play with other children. I’ve picked up a bit of sign language – both Makaton and British Sign Language – from songs we sing and sign in class and from seeing people using signs in the classroom so I can listen to the children and help them say things like asking to go to the toilet, asking for food, or saying that they’re happy or sad. It’s also helping me to be a better listener and be more patient. I’ve asked for some resources so I can learn more signs.
“I’m more of a practical person so I was a bit worried about the online learning but it’s not hard, it just tests you on things you know. You get support from Runway, I know the teachers are there if I need to ask anything, and I’ve made friends with other teaching assistants so we can talk about the job and give each other advice.”
Fiona has a GCSE in healthcare from St Anselm’s Catholic School in Canterbury and Level 1 and 2 Health and Social Care Gateway Diplomas from Canterbury College. She has previously worked with adults with learning disabilities and looks after a friend’s children some evenings but until now she hadn’t had a job working with children. This didn’t stop her obtaining the placement however, as experience of working in a school isn’t necessary, but a passion for making a difference to children’s lives is.
Head teacher at The Wyvern School, John Somers, said: “The Kickstart candidates have been a valuable asset to the team; in the short period since September I have seen all four grow in confidence and maturity. I am pleased to be part of the project as 35 years ago I was on a similar project run by the Manpower Services Commission. It gave me access to work and skills and paved the way for my current career.”
Fourteen special schools, nine mainstream schools, and one Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) in Kent have signed up to the scheme and 11 of those have already welcomed Kickstart participants. Participants aged 16 to 22 are paid the appropriate National Minimum Wage for their age while those aged 23 and over receive the National Living Wage.
In addition to the teaching assistant placements, there are more opportunities in schools, including administration and caretaker roles, as well as in other areas of KCC’s work including social care, public health, and highways. Information about Kickstart can be found on KCC’s website, however, young people need to apply via Jobcentre Plus not via the council.
Shellina Prendergast, Kent County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, said: “We are very pleased to be able to support the Kickstart scheme here in Kent and to be in a position to promote it to young people and employers via the Reconnect: Kent Children and Young People programme.
“Not only does Kickstart give young people the skills and experience they need to start work and develop a career, but it is also a fantastic way for organisations to gain high quality members of staff. I would like to thank The Wyvern School and all the other schools and KCC teams that have signed up to Kickstart Kent, and I would like to wish Fiona and all the other Kickstart participants the best of luck with their placements and their future careers.”
Fiona added: “If anyone is thinking about applying for one of the teaching assistant placements I would say give it a go. It definitely changes your mindset about how teachers and teaching assistants work. I didn’t know if I would be able to do this but now I’m doing it I know that I can. My family are all very proud of me.
“My goal is to make this my career but I’m taking little steps and setting realistic smaller goals.
“I love coming home and knowing I’ve helped a child, even if it’s in a small way. No two days are the same and you learn something new every day; it’s challenging, but it’s worth it.”
- Find out more about the Kickstart Kent teaching assistant placements here: https://www.kent.gov.uk/jobs/starting-your-career/kickstart-scheme/kickstart-placements-at-special-educational-needs-schools
- Learn about other Kickstart opportunities in Kent here: https://www.kent.gov.uk/jobs/starting-your-career/kickstart-scheme
- Find out about Reconnect: Kent Children and Young People here: https://www.kent.gov.uk/education-and-children/schools/reconnect
- Read about the national Kickstart scheme here: https://www.kickstartdirect.com/