Dr Sarah Alix is the Programme Director of North Essex Teacher Training.
Based in Clacton, Dr Alix's journey into teaching started in an unusual place. After leaving school, she started working in a horse racing paddock. Following the birth of her first child and the completion of a Degree in Psychology at the Open University, she threw herself into youth work before training to teach with Anglia Ruskin.
Like many people, whilst training to teach she discovered that a career in education has many different routes and paths. She discovered that she loved working with children who initially presented with the most challenging behaviour. She felt that she was both able to make a connection with those children but also that she enjoyed seeing improvements in pupils who came from the most vulnerable backgrounds such as Looked After or Special Guardianship children.
Her first real experiences of real challenging behaviour came in her NQT year. One of her pupils would leave the classroom 20 times a day at the beginning of the academic year. “There were challenges every single day and was a real baptism of fire.” This pupil was a child who was “Looked After.” Dr Alix had two Looked After Children in her class – however the one which displayed the more disruptive behaviour was at the time in their 21st foster placement under the age of 12.
A Looked After Child, in its simplest terms is a child who the local authority has taken ultimate responsibility for and is the legal guardian. However, there are more than just Looked After Children who come into contact with social services. Any child who comes under Special Guardianship, including children who are looked after by family, adoption or foster parents can present similar emotional and behavioural challenges. Issues Looked After Children may present typically stem from instability in their home life. Many children struggle to form valuable relationships and may actively destroy relationships before a good relationship goes wrong. This, normally, is a result of not being sure about the future and their own stability. It can also present itself in poor self-esteem concentration and challenging behaviour. What is important to recognise is that this behaviour will not always be demonstrated.
What Dr Alix noticed in her NQT year was a real lack of communication between children’s services. She was often completely unaware of when child counselling or family sessions were planned, which would invariably result in an increase in disruptive behaviour. All information was on a need to know basis. Feeling like the child was not getting the best out of her or the education system, she made it her business to find out when sessions were and took an active part in ensuring paperwork and procedures were followed up.
By the end of that year, her first as a qualified teacher, she was able to see how far all her pupils and herself as a teacher had come. It was impossible to see in the moment. She had faced challenges to her ethos and teaching ideals but had managed to get her class to engage in learning.
Following her early career experience, Dr Alix soon started to work with the local authority’s behaviour support. Here she honed her skills working with many different children across different skills and age groups, to encourage children back into learning. Many of the pupils receiving behaviour support were Looked After Children.
Dr Alix recognised a need for more research on Looked After Children in education. There was plenty of work on the social or foster work side, however very little from a learning perspective. Perceiving an opportunity whilst working at Anglia Ruskin as Deputy Head of Department, Dr Alix completed a PhD at Brunel University on the Perceptions and Experiences of Primary Trainee Teachers of Looked After Children and the Implications for Training and Continuing Professional Development. She stayed at Anglia Ruskin for 8 years administering ITT courses. Living in Clacton meant a move to NETT felt logical as it meant she was able to work with local schools in her local community. At NETT she now works as Programme Director for Primary & Secondary.
In 2019 Dr Sarah Alix wrote How Can Teachers Support Children in Care/Looked After Children (LAC). In 2020, The Foster Carer’s Handbook on Education; Getting the Best for your Child.
What does Sarah think her career has taught others? “Explore everything. Things will grab your attention. There will be things you will be good, but you will never know until you have tried it. Open ideas and develop from there. I am a practitioner with an academic side motivating me – I would not have thought that when I started my career in the paddock. Enjoy getting involved finding out more.”