05 June 2017

Circle of support: Sean’s back in school to help students feel at home

A former Arthur Terry student who received “exceptional support” for his learning difficulties has returned to the outstanding academy as a trainee teaching assistant, working with children with special educational needs.

History has come full circle for Sean McKeown. Six years ago as a struggling schoolboy, he benefited from the support of Arthur Terry’s “inspirational” staff. Today, he is back in those same classrooms supporting children with additional needs.

I’m a firm believer in giving back,” says Sean, now 22. “If it wasn’t for the exceptional support I received at Arthur Terry then I would not be who I am today.”

That person is a caring, confident and ambitious trainee who is committed to giving other young people with learning difficulties the best life chances.

Sean attended the outstanding Four Oaks secondary school between 2006 and 2011. During that time he was strongly influenced by his dedicated teachers and teaching assistants, many of whom he now works alongside.

Sean was a student at Arthur Terry School

Sean says: “I remember being in the school hall at the start of year 7 and thinking how big it all seemed. By the end of year 11 I had won several awards, made lots of friends and achieved my GCSEs – I had such a great time at school.”

He credits both his academic and personal achievements to the school’s inclusive learning environment.

He says:

“Although I was part of Arthur Terry’s in-class support system, I was never perceived as being different. The students and staff made me feel part of a strong school community – and that supportive environment gave me the confidence to be myself.”

At the age of two Sean was diagnosed with dyspraxia – a condition that affects fine and/or gross motor coordination, and sometimes speech, in children and adults.

In Sean’s case he struggled with issues surrounding organisation and orientation and found he had to work extra hard to stay on top of his school work. Strong family support, coupled with the school’s robust learning support policy, meant that a carefully tailored programme of support was available throughout his entire time at Arthur Terry.

Sean says: “The school was brilliant in building structures to help – my year 11 teaching assistant, Lou Grew, who I now work alongside, was instrumental in supporting me, especially with science, and I will never forget that.”

Teaching assistant Lou Grew

He was also taught by experienced SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) Sharon Vaughan, who Sean now shadows as part of his training.

Sharon says: “Sean’s determination and his sense of humour will always stay with me. I am incredibly proud of what he has achieved so far.”

Sean is on level three of his TA qualification with University College Birmingham (UCB). The course, in supporting teaching and learning in schools, requires 300 hours of placement at Arthur Terry and includes numerous modules based around supporting students, such as managing challenging behaviour and supporting learning activities.

Sean says:“It’s a great course – the college and school have been fantastic in supporting me. I need to give special thanks to course leader Jane Smith, lecturer Christina Hughes and my assessor, Maria Mitchell.”

He hopes to use the qualification to secure a position as a teaching assistant, a role which he is keen to promote to future male TAs.

“Traditionally, the job is seen as more of a female role, but I’d like to see more males choosing it as a career option,” says Sean.

As part of his college placement, Sean spends two days a week with Sharon, providing in-class support to SEN children. He was delighted to return to his former school.

“It’s like coming home,” he said. “The atmosphere is so friendly and welcoming – just like a family. It’s really nice to know people as people and not just teachers. I’m learning so much from Sharon. She’s highly experienced and fantastic with the students.

Sharon Vaughan and Sean

The children are amazing. I love working with them and want to make a difference. I understand because I’ve been there, just a few years ago, so I know what they are going through and how best to support them. It’s important for them to know they can talk to me and that they are not alone. I appreciated that help and now I want to support others in the same way.”

Arthur Terry headteacher, Neil Warner, says: “Sean is a remarkable young man and a shining example of what can be achieved with the right support and attitude. He has always been a popular member of our school community and we are delighted to welcome him back – he is a real asset to the team.

“We are incredibly fortunate to benefit from the expertise and experience of Sharon and her team who cater to the needs of individuals, so that they can reach their full learning potential in a nurturing and supportive place.”

Sean also works at the Donkey Sanctuary

When he’s not studying or training, Sean is still giving back to his community. The Four Oaks resident also works at Sutton Park’s Donkey Sanctuary’s Assisted Therapy Centre. As a child, Sean would visit the sanctuary to spend time bonding with the animals and to participate in physical strength and balance therapy. Now he is helping others to do the same.

He says: “It’s important for me to give something back – to repay people for all the help and support I was given. They say never work with children or animals – but I love working with both!

It’s about re-investing – if you give people time they will achieve more and hopefully give that back.”