My name’s Matthew Gale and I’m a primary school teacher in Clapham, currently teaching a Year 5 class. I’m in the second year in my career as a teacher and before side-stepping into teaching, I worked in the Radio industry.
In 2012, I made a documentary on the life and legacy of a Drum and Bass MC called Stevie Hyper D, which brought me to the attention of Rachel Gow, who contacted me directly after hearing it. It’s been really inspiring to meet Rachel and hear how both her personal and academic background informed the great work she’s doing to raise awareness and support for children with learning challenges and differences and their families.
I trained to become a teacher from 2015 to 2016, so my awareness of the range of educational needs present in most classrooms, as well as my training in being able to best provide an inclusive classroom are relatively current and up-to-date. As a teacher with a class in which 50% of my students have been identified as having a specific educational need, speaking frankly, I feel that my understanding of S.E.N.D and my ability to provide adequate support for all my students is not as developed as it needs to be.
A large part of this can be attributed to the fact that I am still relatively inexperienced in my career as a teacher. However, the underlying reasons for the lack of good provision for children with educational differences in schools are wide and varied. Although I can only speak from my own admittedly brief experience in the profession, I believe that the issue of why teachers such as myself feel that they are not providing a completely inclusive classroom for all the children in their care is systemic. It basically comes down to not enough hours in the day for Teachers to balance the crippling workload of paperwork, red-tape, meetings and training (not to mention a bit of planning, teaching and marking on top). It also comes down to not enough money to pay for enough highly-trained specialists to support teachers to do their jobs as effectively as they could.
There are many more underlying reasons why we as teachers are struggling to ensure that all children in our classes fulfil their potential, but most of the teachers I work and trained with share my sense of frustration at the numerous barriers that obstruct our abilities to best do this.
Before I begin reducing you all to tears about how hard my working life is (it is, but it’s also the most satisfying and inspiring job I’ve ever had), I’d like to talk briefly about the man I made a radio documentary about, Steven Austin, or Stevie Hyper D as he was more widely known. Through extensive interviews with his family, I discovered that Stevie struggled throughout his schooling for a variety of reasons. Today, he would more than likely be identified as having an educational need, requiring extra support in class to achieve his potential. Although he didn’t receive such support in school, his close network of family and friends, together with his own relentless drive to succeed enabled Stevie to face the challenges of school and learning head on and rise above them to become one of the most defining and influential figures in the Drum and Bass music scene. Stevie was one of the lucky ones.
As a teacher, I see so many talented and capable children who don't have the drive, motivation and fearlessness that could help to take them to Stevie’s levels of accomplishment. Of the children I’ve worked with so far who have been identified as having an educational need, many of those who have the confidence they need to remain motivated and focused in their studies are those that have the love and support of a similar network of people around them that Stevie enjoyed.
As I previously mentioned, I am still a relatively new teacher, and with time I’m sure that my own knowledge and skills will develop to allow me to provide for all the children in my class more effectively. However, the difficulties facing Primary teachers in helping all the children in their care achieve their potential are manifold. I do strongly feel that helping children with specific educational needs requires most of all a strong and effective parent-teacher relationship, in which both sides are open and honest with each other about the challenges they both face and what they feel is the best way forward for the child in question.
Whilst this relationship can be incredibly positive and beneficial to the development of the child, it can also become fractious and difficult. I feel that a parent/teacher relationship that is based on trust, empathy for each other and a shared desire to accelerate the child’s academic and creative development can help children with educational challenges achieve the same heights and achievements as Stevie Hyper D.
This is a transcript of Matthew's talk at the launch of Nutritional Minds, 1 November 2017