25 years at Portland-“I feel part of something bigger”

25 years at Portland-“I feel part of something bigger”

Debbie Randles is a Teacher and Co-op Coordinator at Co-op Academy Portland in Birkenhead North.

I’m a teacher at Co-op Academy Portland, I currently teach Year 1 full time and I love my job – not a lot of people can say that and actually mean it. 

I have taught at Portland for almost 25 years and 3 years ago we became part of the Trust. To say we were unsure of what this meant for our school, my colleagues, our children and their families was an understatement but things began to change for the better rapidly.

Since joining the Trust I have become the Co-op Coordinator, alongside my teaching post – a role which encompassed a lot of the existing positive work we did within our community – being part of the Trust has allowed me to expand our community work with their support and expertise. We have continued to support all our local groups, food banks, homeless shelters and toy appeals, in addition we are part of a greater support network – I have found this the most beneficial aspect of working within the Trust – as a small school we have hugely benefited from being part of a wider network – with colleagues from different schools, shops and businesses prepared to work with us – allowing us to expand our support more effectively.

We have raised over £10,000 for Children in Need, we support Wirral Foodbank regularly, we provide coats for the homeless shelter annually, last Christmas we provided a huge number of food hampers to our community and this year we are hoping to provide a Christmas Dinner for those in our Community who would not have one.

I have found working for the Trust, as opposed to a local authority, eye opening. The level of support is so different, there has always been someone, somewhere on hand to support, to answer your emails and to point you in the right direction. I feel they have appointed a wide range of diverse people who are excellent at what they do, supporting academies with matters ranging from social media training, curriculum planning to attendance matters and human resources. This has meant (for our school of less than 20 staff) there has been a vast range of knowledge we have tapped into regularly who have been a great help to us and continue to support us in our future growth.  

This support has fed into us feeling valued as individuals but also collectively, like a valued member of something bigger – our staff were recognised recently at the Primary Recognition for their great teamwork and their excellent efforts to support our community. This is something we at Portland have always done well for many years, but to be recognised for our hard work meant a great deal to our staff.

As we are a small school, we often plan alone, teach alone and assess alone, since joining the Trust we have shared planning with other schools, we have worked on Trust wide planning currently used in many academies, and have joined other Co-op academies for moderation, planning and CPD training – widening our professional reach, enabling us to receive support from others but also providing the opportunity for us to support other academies.

We have had many opportunities which we wouldn’t have had had we remained within our local authority. Our primary school has visited Angel Square a number of times, we have been part of inter school competitions, we have had an inflatable dairy come to our school – this was so educational but better than that, it was so much fun! We have visited other Co-op schools, shared their resources, shared their minibus and even shared their staff. 

Outside of my teaching role, my Co-Co role allows me to work with many professionals I would never have met, and their support has been invaluable. I feel that my skills have been up levelled and importantly that my role within our school has been recognised  – this has made a massive impact on me on a personal level. 

Our school is a huge part of our community, our staff are loyal and hard working and our parents recognise this. Our children have benefited greatly from joining the Trust, they have received help in purchasing uniform, had fully equipped pencil cases for use at home, received books to keep, and in recent months they have received chromebooks and cases. Our curriculum has widened and our children are well catered for. 

Over the past 12 months we have provided food vouchers, toy and food hampers and the additional support needed even when we were remote learning. Our families are extremely grateful for this level of support and in turn they are beginning to engage more with school on many levels. Over the past 12months our school intake has increased by around 15%, our parents are telling their friends about our school, and our social media spreads the word of what we are doing, our last family joined us after following us on Facebook and said our school looked like the kind of school she wanted her children to be a part of.

I have been a teacher for almost 26 years, all bar one of those years at Portland. I have always felt supported by my colleagues in school, our families and now within the Trust. Now I feel part of something bigger than our school, part of a wider far reaching body, supporting our children, their families and our staff. 

Am I happy working for the Trust? Yes I am. Has the transition from LA to the Trust been easy? No, not always, but if you work hard, are good at what you do, supportive of your colleagues, are adaptable and prepared to play a part in a bigger team, that has high expectations – you will develop professionally and feel valued. And finally – would I recommend it as a place to work?

Definitely – my love for teaching has been reignited and I love my job – as I said early – not many people can say that.