May 18, 2020, by abrierley
My experience at Phoenix Aspirational Learning Support in Nottingham
by Aleksandra Lasak studying within the School of Sociology and Social Policy
During the Spring semester of my second year at the University of Nottingham, I decided to undertake a placement not only to embellish my CV and gain some work experience before graduating, but also to challenge myself and put into practice some of the theories and concepts I had learnt throughout my Criminology degree.
Among the wide variety of different available options, Phoenix Aspirational Learning Support (PALS) stood out to me, as they offered something unique in terms of education and community engagement. They are a small non-profit organisation whose aim is to provide a safe and accepting learning environment for young vulnerable people who have been excluded from mainstream education. Indeed, due to the fact that England represents one of the countries with the highest percentages of permanent exclusions from school, there is currently a strong need for organisations such as PALS which recognise the vulnerability of excluded children and support them in many different ways, such as teaching literacy and numeracy and ‘soft’ interpersonal skills.
I applied for this placement through the Placement and Internship scheme at the School of Sociology and Social Policy. The application process consisted of sending an up to date CV and an application form. Throughout the different stages of this process, I was supported both by the Placement team and the University’s Careers and Employability Service, who gave me essential advise. After sending the application and completing an in person interview, I started my placement in January.
The role they offered was that of a volunteer classroom teacher assistant, which required me to work in close contact with young people and be part of a teaching team. I would usually spend the first half of the day helping one or two children with their activities and make sure that they understood what was required of them. This would sometimes involve having to motivate them to do their work and making sure that they did not feel discouraged or incapable of doing it.
The second half of the day would usually consist of more casual activities such as watching a movie or playing a board game. These activities would ensure that children would develop their interpersonal abilities by learning how to effectively interact with others.
The most significant aspect of my placement was the fact that I had the opportunity to work in close contact with young vulnerable people and I felt like I could truly make a positive impact on their lives. Indeed, due to the fact that they had been excluded from school, they often expressed feelings of hopelessness and disillusionment, which had made them lose their faith in the education system, in institutions and society more broadly at a very young age. As a result, I felt the need to make sure that the learning environment was always welcoming and non-judgemental and this required me to challenge myself in different ways and make sure I constantly reflected on my language, my behaviour and my actions.
Thanks to my placement at PALS, I gained valuable experience in a field I am truly interested in and I developed team-working and organisational skills. During my placement, I also undertook different training, including training about child abuse, the safeguarding of children and radicalisation. This provided me with useful and insightful information about these topics. In order to work with young people, I was also required to apply for a DBS check, which I believe will be useful for my future job applications.
Additionally, I believe that the time I have spent at PALS has helped me identify my future aspirations, as it has motivated me to pursue a career in education which will allow me to work with young people from different backgrounds.
I really hope that more students will see the potential that PALS and other non-government funded organisations have, as they perform an essential role within communities and society by giving vulnerable and hopeless young people a second chance.