The academy way
Words: Fiona Flynn
Photographs: Sion Touhig
Tim Trainor was on his MSc in chemical engineering at Imperial College, London, when he came across the Teach First scheme, which puts high-calibre graduates into London schools. At 18, he'd intended to go into the City, but was so impressed with a presentation on social entrepreneurship by the business consultants McKinsey which helped start Teach First, that he spent a week on observations at the Academy in Peckham, south-east London, then signed up.
A year later, he had qualified teacher status and is now going through the standard induction for newly qualified teachers. Like all teaching staff in academies, he receives an extra pound;2,000 a year, for which he's obliged to do five extra days of training. Teach First provides much of that for their graduates.
This year, Tim is doing a unit towards an MBA; he has attended one course on "managing your manager" and another with a positive psychotherapist.
It's hard work, but that's part of the attraction. "The pressure is what appealed to me," he says. "And I think I learned more on the Teach First scheme than I would have on a year-long PGCE."
The Academy at Peckham replaced the notorious and unpopular Warwick Park comprehensive two and a half years ago. The pupils are largely from the same area, but staff have worked hard to ensure it is now well-resourced and over-subscribed. Ofsted has just reported that it is on the way to achieving success.
First Appointments followed Tim on a typical day for an NQT.
1. The pre-school staff briefing allows just enough time for a cheery joke amid the announcements, before the teachers disperse.
2. Ten minutes later, Tim's Year 7 class are quietly reading books during registration. After checking emails on his laptop, Tim takes time to check individual pupils' homework diaries and review their targets. After the 9am siren, it's out with the PSHE textbooks. The lesson theme is you and your values. The discussion turns lively once the children warm to their themes.
When Kinesha suggests that helping old ladies across the road is good, her classmates are keen to recount their own experiences of helping the elderly. Who stands up for the less able on the bus? A unanimous show of hands.
3. Break duty means a dash across the school, past the queue for the tuck shop to watch boys play football in the brutal cold. After break, Tim's Year 11 middle set have two weeks before it is decided whether they do foundation or intermediate GCSE, so the pressure is on. Today they are revising percentages, and they're keen.
4. While Year 11 concentrate on their warm-up work, converting percentages to fractions and decimals (no calculators allowed), Tim checks his emails again. He gets around 20 a day, mostly admin: information about the school's honour roll, report systems and exclusions; he can even order his lunch. After that, it's hard tasking with fraction multipliers and exam question extension work. A lot of ground is covered and the pace is swift and purposeful. 5. An upmarket two-course lunch isn't a teacher's perk in every school, but the academy has its own leisure and hospitality suite, with professional kitchen and dining room. Teachers can eat here for pound;3. Apart from the NVQ pupils, who wait at table as well as preparing the meals, the dining room is a pupil-free zone.
6. After lunch, it's Year 9. They warm up with some percentage multipliers.
Every pupil turns up with their five pieces of equipment because Tim had threatened lines. The main lesson, algebra, is Tim's favourite topic, and Year 9 is his favourite age group. "They're just starting to grow and test the boundaries."
7. Extra-curricular activities have made a huge difference to the atmosphere of the school, says Tim. The hardest thing for him had been getting respect from the pupils, especially because he's so young. "I got it eventually, by mucking in with school trips and playing football," he says.
8.The end of the day. Tim reflects that discipline has been his most important lesson. He found his own Catholic education oppressive and set out on his teaching career with a more liberal approach - until his seasoned mentor at Peckham put him right. "He told me 'What pupils want and need are strict teachers, clear rules, solid routines and firm boundaries.'
And he was right."