The day my life changed

18th March 2011 at 00:00
Straight-As pupil was sleeping rough. It wasn't good enough. He needed a home

We've always had an ethos of being a family at Quintin Kynaston School. For whatever reason, we are in the position where we are parenting many of our students and really we are bringing them up as if they were part of a family.

Each year we have at least seven or eight kids who are living in hostel accommodation and probably another 20 who are homeless, sofa-surfing on a friend's or relative's couch. If they are in a hostel, they are living with the most vulnerable elements of society. Just getting through the day is challenging: making sure your rent is paid, shopping for food, making sure you have clean clothes, a clean body. Studying is almost by the by.

We have one pupil, Vincent, who is an incredibly bright young man. He achieved straight As and A*s at GCSE and had been sleeping on a bench in Hyde Park for four-and-a-half months. He would wake up cold and tired and make his way to school, where he would shower. It wasn't until he told us that we became aware of his situation. At first he wanted to keep it to himself, but he thought we were his only hope of hanging onto a normal lifestyle.

It was his story that finally made us get off our backsides and do something. My deputy and I were driving to a school basketball game and we were talking about a couple of students who we were really concerned about. We said it would be fantastic if the school had its own house where homeless sixth-form students would have somewhere to go, where they could be nurtured and looked after; a place where their emotional and intellectual needs, as well as their physical ones, could be met.

Essentially, this will be their home, somewhere that will provide mentoring, study support and life skills in the way that I brought up my own children.

The idea is not to build a house on the school site, but to buy a property. We are looking to buy a family house that is within walking distance of school. We want something really big, with bedrooms for each of the kids and a nice communal living area where they can eat together, watch TV and play on the PlayStation. There would be a garden, too, and we hope to provide a real family atmosphere.

The idea for the house is just a natural extension of what the ethos of the school is all about, from supporting families and young people to physically replacing those families. It was that drive to the basketball game, punctuated by the knowledge of Vincent's circumstances, that made us think we need this house. We need accommodation for these young people where they will be looked after. A hostel puts a roof over a young person's head, but it doesn't nurture them, it doesn't provide for their emotional well-being and they are alone, really alone. That is what the Quintin Kynaston house will combat.

We need to raise #163;2 million, and although we have only raised #163;30,000 so far, we have been inundated with offers of help, including a very kind donation of #163;2,000 from a wonderful little old lady and an anonymous cheque for #163;1,000 that read "Please accept this in support of your fantastic charity". It has been incredible to think that people have been so generous so far.

I am driven by the belief that this house will save these kids, putting them on the road to a university education and to some kind of a better life. It can help them grow into fantastic young adults.

Jo Shuter is headteacher of Quintin Kynaston School in north-west London. She was talking to Kevin Benson. To donate, go to www.qkschool.org.uk. If you have an experience to share, email features@tes.co.uk.

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