Assistant Head of a pupil referral unit in North London discusses her unique insight into the day to day life experiences and challenges at a school supporting second chances.

Previously a head of year as a drama teacher, Rachel Phillips has transferred her skills in the arts to embark upon contesting the dramas of some secondary school children’s everyday life.

“We have approximately 140 students on our roll… who have either been permanently excluded from mainstream school or cannot access mainstream education due to mental health, behaviour or medical concerns. Our school is spread over several sites and at the heart of our day to day teaching is personalised learning.”

What have been some of your most testing days?

“Each day is different - some days are more positive than others but there is never ever a day where I’ll come home, collapse on my sofa and think “well that was a boring day!”.

…the most upsetting days are the ones where students display behaviour that suggest they have no care or respect for themselves. These may be days where I suspect a student is being exploited or abused outside of school or they have other things on their minds which hinder their ability to work to their full potential. … in the admission meeting I ensure that the student realised that doors are still open to them.”

So far, what are the highlights in this career that drive you to continue in quite a challenging role?

“The happiest times of my job are those key ‘breakthrough moments’ with the students. Those moments where you have spent months if not years trying to help young people realise their worth and to dissuade them from gang or drug activity and focus on the positives that life has to offer. I remember one warm sunny evening, in Wales at about 9pm, we had just taken the students to climb mount Snowdon and a student turned to me and said “do you know what miss, f*ck the gangs. F*ck the other stuff .... THIS if life”. He then accepted an invite to in to a ‘get out of gangs’ scheme the very next day. Very proud moment."

Often excluded to the back of people’s thoughts, it is too commonly over-looked, the extraordinary work of those, like Miss Phillips, working for the kids that have been excluded from the mainstream. The kind of support they are neglected from unrightfully.