Star Turn

November 27, 1998

Phil Baty joins a driving instructor and decorator on an access course to teaching

Like the group of adult learners she is taking today for an access to higher education seminar, Helen Deane, 37, has benefited from a second chance at higher education.

After being made redundant as an office manager in 1990, she took a BEd at Greenwich University, and quickly relaunched her career as a secondary school teacher at an inner London comprehensive.

She joined Lambeth College five years ago, and now has a dizzying list of responsibilities. She is course manager for access courses, deputy head and academic tutor of the school of humanities. She has 14 hours teaching a week, but says that she works "nine till nine" five days a week, including the work she takes home with her.

Bitten by the bug of lifelong learning, she collected her MA in education from Greenwich University in front of her proud partner and 17-year-old daughter just last week.

Today she is teaching an eight-strong group on an access to secondary teacher training programme, accredited by the Open College Network. It is the first year the college has run the course.

She has been teaching for an hour of the two-hour session without a break. "It's tough and you have got to have a lot of stamina," she says.

Ms Deane has an attentive class. They are all volunteering for their second chance in education. In class today there is a driving instructor, a part-time school assistant and a painter and decorator.

But the unique difficulties are immediately apparent. Ms Deane is training her students how to make sure 14 and 15-year-old school pupils can use information technology at Key Stage 3 level in the national curriculum.

But her own students are still in the process, in a separately taught class, of learning to use IT at the same level as their intended pupils and some are less familiar with computers than school pupils.

Some of her students are involved in simultaneous classes in English and maths at a similar level to the pupils they are preparing to teach.

The first step is to unravel the national curriculum. "There is a lot of criticism about how the national curriculum is worded," she tells the class. She reads: "'Pupils should be taught to become critical and largely autonomous users of IT'. What does autonomous mean?" "Doing it on your own," says one of the students.

Doing it on your own is a crucial message not just for the school pupils, but also for Ms Deane's own class. The session appears to be more about guidance and counselling, rather than straightforward lecturing.

The students get 16 hours a week teaching contact time, and are pushed to take control of their own learning. Much of the lesson is spent cajoling students to ensure they badger hard-pressed local schools for informal work experience as classroom assistants - a prerequisite of the course - to "see what's going on out there".

Later she advises the students about how to get into a teaching and IT conference, where the small print says that it is not open to "students". They will have to use their nouse, she believes.

As the class closes, she offers her personal attention for three-quarters of an hour to any student who wants it. "I don't have many problems with enthusiasm," she says.

"The hardest thing I have to face is the family crises, the financial crises and the immigration crises. That's when they don't get their essays in, not because they are lazy."

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