By Seamus Oates
23 November, 2021
OAT’s new regional director for London, Seamus Oates CBE, shares his background in education and discusses the critical role alternative provision (AP) can play in helping to turn lives around.
I’m a strong advocate for the life-changing power of education. I was the first person in my family to go to university and soon after graduating with a biology degree I found a job teaching English and science in Sudan where I spent an incredible two years. We taught with minimal resources and our pupils had to overcome many challenges to even get to school, before the learning started. The experiences I gained during my time there certainly provided a strong foundation for the career path I’ve since taken.
Following my work in Sudan, I completed a PGCE at Manchester University and went on to teach science and ICT at a secondary school in east London, and in schools in the Middle East. In 1995 I started working as a teacher at the Latimer PRU where we launched one of the first ever school websites and used it to share our pupils’ poetry, enabling it to be accessed across the world.
I became headteacher of the Bridge Academy in Hammersmith and Fulham in 2003 which received two outstanding Ofsted judgements. I then went on to establish one of the first alternative provision/special multi-academy trusts in the country, serving as executive head teacher and CEO. I have also been a member of the NWLSC Headteacher Board and The Youth Justice Board and believe that with the right support all young people can be successful.
Our London academies work closely with local services and have excellent relationships with their mainstream schools. We have highly established managed intervention centres (MICs) and outreach teams in each area, who provide early support to prevent pupils from being excluded from their mainstream schools.
Across the four academies, we support both primary and secondary pupils and work hard to reintegrate primary and KS3 pupils back into mainstream education. At KS4, our work is more about preparing the pupils for transition to the next stage of education or employment. We deliver a core entitlement of at least five GCSEs alongside a specialised holistic curriculum of personal development and intervention.
Education can turn lives around. Through working in alternative provision I’ve seen so many children who have been failed by the system for one reason or another. When they arrive at our academies, they are often angry, disaffected, scared and unmotivated. The first steps for our expert staff are to build positive and trusting relationships. I greatly admire the staff who choose to work in this field, it’s such a challenging role and yet they come back day after day as they know how important their work is.
The scale, expertise and resource that OAT brings is invaluable to our academies and services. We are already benefiting from the robust central services, and our staff from the comprehensive and inspiring CPD that OAT offers. We are excited for further development and being able to share our approach and practice with mainstream colleagues across the OAT family. We are so proud to have joined a trust which truly believes that by working together we can achieve success for all.
About Alternative Provision (AP), OAT and the London schools
The four alternative provision (AP) academies and managed intervention centres (MICs) serve the most vulnerable pupils in their communities. When schools find that they can no longer support the behaviour needs of some pupils, those pupils access AP for a period of time and attend full-time to continue their education. The aim is to return the young people back into mainstream, but for some AP is a place where they complete their education. This means that high-quality AP needs to serve the behaviour needs of pupils, and also deliver a high-quality curriculum.
We have a high proportion of pupils with SEN and pupils also need to access other services for support. AP schools work in collaboration with schools in their local areas and are an integral part of the inclusion offer across local authorities.
The Trust can bring the scale, expertise and resource to the new AP academies, but the London staff also bring a wealth of knowledge to our mainstream provision around behaviour and SEND, as well as supporting the regions in reducing exclusions. The work being carried out in the London academies is impressive and is already informing future planning.
AP and the London boroughs are both new to the Trust, but due to the transition period, we have been able to understand the offer and local context. In future this model of AP being a part of a mainstream Trust may become more common, as there is mutual benefit from having the scale and expertise in one organisation. We were pleased to be asked to consider bringing the London academies into the OAT family and can already see the benefit to the London schools and the potential for the wider Trust.