Caring for people and understanding what makes them tick have been a common thread in the journey of Grace Dunphy, so joining Progress Schools and through promotion becoming a permanent teacher supporting students in Alternative Provision (AP) perhaps seemed almost inevitable from the beginning.
Growing up Grace was very close to her grandparents who were foster carers and lived in the house just next door with an adjoining garden. Reflecting on now working with children in Alternative Provision who often have Special Educational Needs (SEN) Grace said:
“It is something I was always passionate about. From a young age my grandparents fostered and so Alternative Provision was something I was aware of as many of the children they fostered were similar to the children in our schools, having a broken education, so it was something I’d always been around.”
“I wanted to support young people and I felt like you can make more of an impact in teaching. You can see the progress they make more rapidly along their journey. “
Reflecting on her own journey through education, Grace said that one of the reasons she stayed on until 6th form at her high school studying psychology along with other A-Levels was the fact it was quite small with friendly and approachable teachers. It was that same feeling that helped Grace to decide which University she wanted to study at when it came to it.
“I always knew I wanted to stay at home in Liverpool,” said Grace, “so I applied to do primary teaching at all the local Uni’s . When I went to interview at LJMU it felt on the interview day like they knew you personally and it was smaller than another I visited, so it was a similar feeling to in high school where it felt more personal. That was what made me chose to go there out of the Universities who offered me a place.”
It’s that small setting and personal approach that Grace thinks makes Progress Schools somewhere she is proud to work.
“There are 15 children in the school at the moment seven or eight staff so it is high staff to pupil ratio. We are flexible and adaptable to student needs. Most of our students have been somewhere before where perhaps they haven’t been supported in the way that they need. So it is important to be able to include everybody and make sure everyone’s needs are catered to, and we can do that more easily than in mainstream school as the class sizes are much smaller and staff have more capacity to offer support.”
Grace studied Primary Education for three years at LJMU before graduating in 2019 when she signed up with a few agencies looking for supply teaching opportunities. Grace managed to secure a temporary contract with a special needs school for children aged 3-19 where she eventually stayed for 2 years, working through the COVID 19 Pandemic.
During her time there Grace learned how to be “adaptable, resilient, be a juggler for want of a better word” as the children had a diverse range of special education needs and disabilities such as severe autism, cerebral palsy and global developmental delay. Grace felt her role there was “making sure you are teaching the whole child, not just the academic side but the nurturing side too.”
When that temporary contract ended, Grace returned to the supply agency and it was through them she initially found work at Progress Schools as a mentor.
In this more pastoral role Grace worked one to one with children, and supporting teaching staff for a year. When one of the teachers left to progress to become a headteacher at another Progress School a teaching position became available, and Grace decided to apply. Grace credits the Head Teacher at the time as giving her the confidence to progress.
“Our Head Teacher really demonstrated confidence in your ability, trusted you, and never doubted you.”
Grace also felt that the ‘personal touch’ was key, something that remains important to her. She remembered:
“While my dad was poorly with covid one time, the head knew about it and would make a point to ask every morning how dad was getting on. There was one day he hadn’t asked in the morning and while I was driving home he rang to say he had meant to ask and wanted to check in. He cared about you as a person and always made us feel we were equals. When you know you are supported outside of your job as well as inside your job you feel more confident and able to do your work.”
After leading a maths lesson to demonstrate her teaching skills, Grace was offered the post as a full time teacher and felt happy and excited to take on the challenge.
Despite initially training in primary education, Grace’s voluntary work with the girl guides since she was just 16 herself along with her previous work experience helped her transition to working with secondary students.
“Being a leader at girl guides has definitely helped me here” Grace told us. “It taught me leadership skills and how to work with a variety of people from a young age. The ages of the girls in guides are similar to the age of the students here, so that potentially helped me take the step from primary training to secondary teaching being used to working with that age group.”
Since being promoted to teach Grace has recently been nominated by her colleagues as being a creative collaborator. The other staff at the school didn’t hesitate to sing Grace’s praises when asked telling us that Grace brings “positive vibes” to the school as she is always “supportive of others”.
One colleague said “She always listens to us. You can tell she is in this line of work because she wants to do it, she is passionate, so kind. My experience here wouldn’t be the same without Grace.”
Another mentioned that Grace always goes the extra mile even offering her lifts to school saying “She has such a good bond with the kids as well.”
And it shows as Grace talked passionately about seeing tangible ways her work is impacting the lives of the students.
“There was a student who when he first came to us wouldn’t work with us or go to lessons and I think didn’t feel supported, and he wouldn’t speak to us about he was feeling. I realised it was about building a relationship with him first before we tried to teach him academically. Now he comes into our lessons, we can have a laugh and a joke with him. His engagement with education has improved as a result of that.”
Having worked her way up through Progress Schools in a relatively short space of time, Grace is optimistic about her future, hoping there may be an opportunity at some point to put her SEN specialism to good use in a SENCO role with the organisation.
Grace’s advice to other staff wanting to progress in their career would be:
“Ask for advice, speak to other staff in your school to see what their journey was. There isn’t one linear journey into teaching, so even if you don’t have the qualifications yet like I did, you can find out what opportunities there are.”
From seeing the benefit of smaller educational settings where the personal touch made all the difference to now teaching in a smaller school herself, Grace carries her positivity with her daily in her job at Progress Schools and is a real asset to the organisation.