The role of The teachers

Around a quarter of Spark's 55 employees are qualified teachers. Their role in the organisation is both fundamental and demanding, says director Tom McGhee. "Initially we thought much of the curriculum would be delivered by individualised online learning packages, with staff working on personal and social development," he says, "but advanced multimedia packages often distracted our kids from learning and weren't reliable.

"Our model now has teachers as the principal deliverers of learning and teaching. Individual teachers are responsible for a group of youngsters and teach across the curriculum, supported by instructors and classroom assistants."

Tricia Macleod

Lead learning and teaching co-ordinator, working across the five centres; returned to education after her children grew up and qualified as an English teacher

"You interact with the kids much more than in mainstream. You get to resolve their problems. In mainstream these are taken out of your hands and dealt with elsewhere.

"Very often it's something at home that you weren't aware of, but if you take the time the kids will tell you about it.

"Since you work with them all day, you are involved as far as to the resolution of the problem. That is very satisfying.

"Pastoral visits are very much part of the job and add to the relationships with kids and their parents. We don't visit only when there are problems.

Often we'll go out to tell parents their child is doing well.

"The mix of staff here works well. We have quite a few from a social care background, and they help you see things differently. It's very flexible.

If something isn't working for a young person, we do anything we can to make the curriculum accessible.

"We want them to feel they can do it."

Kirsty Frame

Irvine centre maths teacher; taught in Senegal and in Scotland "A lot of teachers might not be comfortable with this job. In mainstream, if a child comes to school in a bad mood you can't find out what's wrong.

Here you talk to parents, get to know the kids, and learn what it is that's affecting their learning.

"You never know what to expect from the kids until they arrive.

Every one is different. You have to find what works for each of them. You have to be interested in them, believe in them, believe they can do well.

"The computer doesn't assess the work they do every day; we do. We have fewer students than mainstream but just as much paperwork, maybe more.

"There are some girls here, but mostly boys.

"Until Amanda came to work here, I was the only female member of staff. It wasn't a problem with the teaching, only at breaks when everybody was talking about football. So now I check the scores the night before!"

Amanda Carey

Irvine centre business studies teacher; taught mainstream in England and worked for the Scottish Qualifications Authority

"It is a demanding job, especially with kids just starting. They're here for a reason. They don't know what to expect and their hackles are up. The first few days can be daunting for students and teachers.

"Each child has an individual education programme and we chart progress in detail - everything learned, every behaviour target achieved.

That lets us and them see what they have achieved.

"In mainstream you hardly know one child from another. Here you know just about everything about them. In mainstream, if a child does something wrong it's the talk of the staffroom, so as soon as he steps into another class he's judged right away.

"We have a disciplined, structured environment here. But for a child who hasn't had much care and attention, it's not going to help to make them stand outside in a corridor.

"We can sometimes be the only stability in these kids' lives. Some of them don't have parents, and there's no one who will sit and listen and not give up on them.

"Every one of them has abilities you can work with."

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