Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Looking back at my school days (2)


I played cricket for all seven years that I was at school. In that time I am almost certain that I didn’t receive any formal coaching. Nor did I have a single session in the cricket nets that existed in large numbers round the school site. So it is fair to say that “sport for all” wasn’t a philosophy that St Albans School supported. The same can be said for both rugger and hockey – no attempt was made to develop my interest or skills in these team games. If anything tennis was even worse run because there was little or no attempt made even to supervise the pupils. Providing you were physically present that was enough for the PE Department.

Looking back this was a curious omission because sport was taken very seriously by the Head Teacher. We had entire afternoons devoted to sport and the school teams achieved a number of notable successes at both local and regional level. I really would have to question how carefully the pool of available talent was examined by the school staff. While playing rugger I was top scorer for three consecutive years – playing loose-head prop forward of all positions! – without getting any recognition from the “powers that be”.

It was much the same with the Field Centre in south Wales that swallowed up vast amounts of staff time and school money.  It was endlessly being promoted and boasted about by senior staff despite the fact that many students never visited the wretched place. A few of my year visited it half a dozen times – wearing a whole range of different hats – but not one of my closest friends ever darkened its door!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

A real shock!

It was more than two years since I last heard from Tish. She was the very first Care Leaver I  had contact with as an adult mentor - she even pre-dates Eve and Ella - and it was quite worrying when she suddenly, without any explanation, stopped replying to my emails. I became even more concerned when her amusing blog was suddenly deleted. However there was nothing I could do and I had embarked on the project knowing that this sort of thing might happen.

Yesterday Tish got back in touch. She has now updated me on all that has happened to her since we were last in contact. The last I knew of her was when she was struggling with a part time job and a reasonably full time course in a Further Education college. She dropped out of college at just about the same time as she broke contact with me and at the time as she stopped writing her blog. It seems that she had a big crisis of confidence and, to quote her words, "ran away to hide". Breaking links with me was just one small part of that process.

She is now living in a different town about 30 miles from where she used to live. She is working in a supermarket and is also doing two evenings a week at college. What is far more exciting is that she is in regular email contact with her last-but-one set of foster parents. She feels that this has given her some extra stability in her life so I'm pleased for her.

Of course there is a downside. I already have my full quota of young people to help - more than my full quota if I'm honest - so I am trying to locate another mentor to take her on. If I'm unsuccessful I will of course not abandon her but it is going to be a bit difficult to give them all the time they deserve!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Mentoring young people

This week I was asked why the mentoring scheme that I have supported for some years has such a high failure rate. I think they were expecting me to say that the lack of support from the centre was the issue - perhaps hoping to use my comment as a lever to extract more funding? But to me the biggest issue isn't the lack of support but is a certain lack of common sense demonstrated by both the young people and, more annoyingly, by the adult mentors.

The student who lost both her parents contacts me on a Friday and I always try to reply the same day. If I know that I'm going to be away - for instance on holiday - I warn her in advance and I let her know when I am due back. Similarly she lets me know if she is going to be away: as indeed she was recently when she went on a study tour. This isn't rocket science but neither does it seem to be standard practice.

But where the current system really doesn't seem to be working is when there is a crisis, perceived or actual, in the young person's life. The mentor needs to give a rapid reply. This is what the young person needs and what they expect. If one of my daughters was in trouble I wouldn't dream of taking up to a week before replying to her cry for help. Yet, sadly, this seems to be a common factor in the breakdown of some pairings.

A rapid reply inplies that the mentor should monitor incoming emails on at least a daily basis. Certaintly I think monitoring as infrequently as twice a week is not going to meet the needs of the young person. I have asked before, both publically and privately, that if the youngsters needs are not being met then should the mentoring continue?

I suppose the answer is yes on the basis that any help is better than none. But to me investing a few minutes once a day to significantly improve the service is just common sense. Common sense that has very much left me in a minority within the group.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Poetry and prose project - progress report

It was an interesting exercise working with Eve and Ella on this mini-project. The idea was to jump forward twelve years in order to write two poems that would sum up their feelings on their, hypothetical, parting in 2012.

Neither girl can read the poems without starting to cry!


EVE AT 35

“Do you ever think about Ella?” A casual husbandly question over lunch.
The truth is that every day I’ve mourned for Ella and wished she was here.
Mourned for Ella for twelve years now. Without a gap, without a pause.
A 3
month trial in the USA Ella had said to me. 3 months - then home again.
But 3 became 6 then 12. By then I knew sweet Ella had gone for good.
The “gone for ever” email duly came. No signs of regret. Ella never did regret.
Ella promised to keep in touch with casual words about airline trips.
Trips we never did – My wifely answer, “No, Ella was just a girl I used to know.”

ELLA AT 35

“Mum, who is that in the picture with you?” A hungry teenager makes me look.
Make me look into my past. I see her face, the face I loved so much. Eve’s face.
Eve’s face as I remember it. Young and lovely. Taken in those happy years.
Those golden years. I thought they would last forever. Eve and Ella together.
Together. It wasn’t to be. Eve got a job, a wonderful well-paid job. 4000 miles away.
4000 miles. Far too far without a move. A move I didn’t want to make. Too scared.
Too scared, too selfish and too stupid to take the chance. And so Eve left me.
Left me – Out loud I say, “The photo? That’s Eve a girl I used to know.”


Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Collingwood, South Tehidy, Cornwall

The breakfasts were excellent both in quality and quantity and the staff were friendly but there are several other aspects of the business that were very disappointing. These need to be looked at urgently if the current rating is to be maintained

The bedroom was the smallest double room I have ever stayed in and the first without curtains at the windows. The very thin light-coloured blinds did almost nothing to keep out the light and this meant that as soon as dawn broke it was hard to sleep. I think to describe our room as spacious, as was done in the promotional material, was being rather optimistic. The bed was placed across the narrowest part of the room so that it was almost impossible to get from one side of the room to the other without climbing over the bed. I'm also not a great fan of the modern assumption that guests don't want to have their bed made and the room aired and tidied every day.

Equally curious was the mention of 2 acres of woodland. There was a medium sized garden at the front of the property and a large tarmac area (basically a car park) at the rear but no sign whatsoever of two acres of woodland.

However the strangest thing about our visit was the way that the owner vanished for 45 minutes just when we were trying to pay the bill. It seems that she was on the "school run" and as no other member of staff was authorised to deal with money we were just left hanging around. This was very unprofessional and rather confirmed our sense of disappointment.