Village school is a campus in disguise

25th April 2003 at 01:00
Guinea pigs for two-year 'foundation' degrees seem to be flourishing in rural Yorkshire. Andrew Mourant reports.

Easington is a cosy village of red-brick cottages, almost the last place on the map before East Yorkshire tapers into Spurn Point.

Here people tend to put down roots. At Easington primary school head Larry Malkin has been in post 20 years. He has established a policy of community involvement, and volunteers help the place thrive. Some have joined the payroll as classroom assistants.

Now two of these assistants have become guinea pigs for the new two-year degrees on which the Government's higher education expansion hopes rest.

Joanne Lount, who is married to a farmer, is in her first year of the degree in classroom support, run through Hull's FE college. She is discovering abilities she never knew she had. Her involvement with the school began as a mother and volunteer while she had other jobs. But now learning has taken over.

Joanne's schooling was disrupted in the sixth form when her father took a job in Singapore. The family went too and she never completed A-levels. She also admits she "wasn't particularly interested" in studying back then. It is different now. The hunger to progress that began when she completed a City and Guilds course has been sustained despite a heavy workload.

The same applies to her colleague Mandy Biglin, who left school at 16 with few qualifications, though later became a qualified riding instructor. The demands of a foundation degree came as a shock. "I nearly packed it in halfway through the first assignment," she says.

But both have stuck with it. Joanne is even thinking of going on to become a teacher.

Some have said a new breed of highly-qualified assistants could come into conflict with teachers, but Joanne and Mandy have not found this. "We have an open-minded team," says Joanne. "If you come up with an idea and put it to the teacher, they will run with it. I believe we're respected throughout the school."

Teaching, of course, offers increased pay. But, says Larry Malkin, the pay of an assistant is quite reasonable compared with other local jobs.

"We don't do what we're doing for the money - it's about the nurturing side," says Mandy, who is content to remain as she is: fitting in classroom support with caring for her disabled husband.

Government cash has helped Larry Malkin to nurture his assistants and the degree has boosted their skills. "I can see a position where teachers almost become consultants, with a lot of what goes on in the classroom carried out by assistants."

The foundation degree courses combine day release, distance learning and study in the workplace.

He has also made the school a venue for adult learning - access to other sources of learning is tricky: the nearest comprehensive is seven miles away along winding roads; and the local FE college, Hull, is 25 miles to the west.

Continuity matters in Easington - Mr Malkin taught the parents of some of the current pupils. He wants the school to remain somewhere that fosters home-grown talent and welcomes new helpers to the fold.

"We have a strong friends' association," he says. "They get involved when their children come to school. Strong links mean that discipline is rarely a problem here."

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