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Focus Schools Trust - anyone have any experience?

(15 Posts)
negrilbaby Thu 11-Apr-13 15:54:38

Just seen a job advertised and was wondering if anyone has any experience of the schools. They are run by the Plymouth Brethren.

negrilbaby Sat 13-Apr-13 20:07:48

Anyone?

difficultpickle Sun 14-Apr-13 20:56:33

They aren't allowed tv, radio, internet so you may struggle to get a response from someone who works in one of their schools!

mummytime Sun 14-Apr-13 21:16:29

I don't think the Focus Trust are exclusive Brethern, just Plymouth Brethern. Their website seems a bit pants, and I did think the school near Hindhead was exclusive, but doesn't seem it from their photo (the older girls aren't wearing head scarves).

Plymouth Brethern are basically a very Protestant/Calvanist group which split from the C of E a couple of hundred years ago.

From their website, I would be careful about: divorce, co-habiting etc. if you are going for the science job I would phone to ask questions on their opinions on evolution. But I have known quite a few Brethern with Science, Medicine, Computing jobs.

zippidee Tue 16-Apr-13 20:57:44

Focus Learning Trust are definitely Exclusive Brethren, who are a rather controversial sect atm. They are the more extreme branch of the Plymouth Brethren (although they sometimes call themselves Plymouth Brethren to distance themselves from the controversy of the Exclusive name, if that makes any sense hmm). they don't allow their members to go to university, hence the need to employ teachers from outside the group - Exclusive Brethren don't have jobs in medicine or science either, for this reason mummytime - that would be members of the actual Plymouth Brethren.

No experience of working for a school though - only of being a member! smile What did you want to know?

negrilbaby Sun 21-Apr-13 15:18:47

I just wanted to get a bit of an idea about what it might be like teaching in a school where the pupils are from a 'sect'. How do the pupils react to the teachers who are not part of this community?
I'm not sure what it would be like teaching children when you know they are not allowed to continue with a tertiary education.
I have seen the response to an article a few years ago in the TES where many of the teachers from the schools responded. Their responses were all completely positive - to the point it started to read a bit staged! I've never been in a school so far in my career where everybody is totally happy.
I have also read some comments which suggest no union membership is condoned (which is illegal, I think).

zippidee Tue 23-Apr-13 14:04:04

I'm not sure how the union thing works with non-brethren teachers - union membership certainly would be forbidden for brethren members.

As far as the pupil-teacher relationship goes, you have to understand that you would be the only contact these kids have with the 'outside world'. The trustees of the school, who are elders of the local brethren church, have a lot of influence in what you can and cannot teach, and indeed what you can and cannot talk about to the pupils - they all would be very wary of you as an Outsider. Somewhere I have a copy of the focus schools policy statement which sets it all out - as I retain some of the Exclusive brethren mentality, I can read into it what they are actually saying, IYSWIM hmm. HTH

negrilbaby Tue 23-Apr-13 20:55:13

Thanks for that Zippidee.
I'm thinking that it may not be the best career move.

hornblow22 Mon 23-Oct-17 11:00:17

There is a significant amount of abusive, confused children. The Brethren have a Victorian like approach to disciplining their children. This creates some very well-behaved pupils but also some very aggressive, rebellious people. Their schools have just as complicated issues as inner-city schools but you'll not have encountered them before. They have a high proportion of students with particular requirements for a single community but little knowledge on how to nurture them. Don't believe their marketing about changing it as their focus changes constantly. There's no switch they can flip to change their underpinning values so quickly.

In brief, if you want to try it just keep your head down, do as you are told and tell them what they want to here. Be like cattle, that's all we are to them...

hornblow22 Mon 23-Oct-17 11:03:29

Pros
A lot of investment in classroom facilities
a strong family based culture
well maintained schools

Cons
Strong knowledge of Brethren beliefs is extremely necessary. Leave your beliefs at the gate and fully absorb theirs regardless of how well they practice them.

The schools are all ran as business entities by successful businessmen. They believe their common-sense approach is enough to run a school. They have very little technical knowledge and have little depth of understanding about a 'culture' of a modern school and developing people past paying for CPD.

Women play a subservient role and most female teachers have difficulty with this.

Student led decisions on school strategies (fickle children = very vulnerable teachers) - Parents on board of Governors and heavy external influence from parents. This would be great if their community was up to date with world’s developing ideas, like equality.

Heavy restrictions on creativity due to Brethren belief structure. This would be indifferent if the beliefs were actively practiced from most of the community; the hypocrisy is significant.

There is a very sensitive, well-practiced 'closing rank' system if students get upset with teachers. Everything runs well until a student from a wealthier family makes a poor choice and is held accountable for it. They tend not to accept decisions going against them and they will immediately reference the school’s best code of practice to insight a ‘riot’ from every class mate. Despite being a popular teacher everything could change very quickly should the ‘wrong’ student be upset. Whilst I am confident in my 10 years of experience teaching I was frequently questioned at the whim and interpretation of children talking through their parents. Whilst this is a common hazard of teaching there is little support to deal with it at a Brethren School.

There is a significant amount of abusive, confused children. The Brethren have a Victorian like approach to disciplining their children. This creates some very well-behaved pupils but also some very aggressive, rebellious people. Their schools have just as complicated issues as inner-city schools but you'll not have encountered them before. They have a high proportion of students with particular requirements for a single community but little knowledge on how to nurture them. Don't believe their marketing about changing it as their focus changes constantly. There's no switch they can flip to change their underpinning values so quickly.

Children are frequently referred to as ‘packs of dogs’ in the playground (staff room). In this hierarchical nature bullying is common place and accepted in the community. From the top, the wealthiest families have social/ community control and the poorer families are frequently ridiculed. Socially, all families are mixed and everyone knows everyone's personal affairs but there is less opportunity for poorer families. Wealthier families pay more into the Brethren 'Pot'

Non Brethren Life is enormously different to Brethren with regards to equality and this contrast became increasingly difficult.

Very high turnover of staff and head's

Sport is well followed by Brethren and played passionately. This is student's 'release' and practice is primal leading to uncontrolled outbursts and potentially unsafe situations.

Brethren rules are frequently broken at the discretion of parents and children leading to a lot of internal conflict when trying to teach.

A massive issue is that strategy is imposed from Australia and rolled out across the world. They are contantly trying to find a '1 size to fit all'. This imposes constant fundamental changes to management and the classroom that are hard to adhere to knowing that they will only be changed again soon.

There are many horror stories of teachers experiences you hear whispers about during your time under Focus employment but you must keep your head down and ignore them. There are constant bulletins from Governors warning we mustn’t talk to press because of things that happen at your school or somewhere else. Focus Learning Trust have never been held accountable to constant allegations on a wide variety of infringements as they have all legalities ‘locked-down’. They are quite like a cartel in this sense; nothing ever sticks but the complaints keep coming. It’s incredible! During my grievance procedure the NUT legal rep researched them, simply advised to take the payout and run. So, I did! They were useless by the way.
In brief, if you want to try it just keep your head down, do as you are told and tell them what they want to here. Be like cattle, that's all we are to them...

LaughingElliot Mon 23-Oct-17 11:34:51

Actually some Exclusive Brethren schools are extremely modern. Take a closer look, you may be surprised.

Fffion Mon 23-Oct-17 11:39:13

I'll PM you.

Fffion Mon 23-Oct-17 11:39:46

Oops - Zombie thread

Fffion Mon 23-Oct-17 12:08:02

Focus schools are rolling out "Self-directed Learning" and have invested enormously in the sat few years on facilities - computer suites, rooms for small group study, rooms for private study. A lot like mini-versions of university libraries without the books. The videos that have on their website are very accurate about how this works.

Because the campuses are very small, e.g. 200 students from Year 3 - 13, some A-level subjects are done by video link. The technology makes it the remote student feel they are part of the host campus.

The students do not progress onto Higher Education - they go on to work within "the community" (i.e. into a Brethren small business). A-level courses useful for these business, Maths, Business Studies, Law, are very popular, as well as extra-curriculars such as Young Enterprise and Lamda. Food Tech and Resistant Materials is also highly regarded, for obvious reasons.

The schools are run by trustees - at the individual campus level by men from within the community - mostly current dads. They are completely in touch with everything that happens at school. Mums play a big part too, especially in organising transport. If you run a school trip, you already have transport and accompanying staff on hand.

The families all want their children to be well-educated, which is why they have schools with outsiders as teachers. They will get antsy about parts of the curriculum what go against their beliefs, but do not want their children disadvantaged in exams. If there's a choice, e.g. in English texts, they will go for the benign ones, but in Science, where there's no choice, they access the full curriculum.

The money sloshes around, so pay and budgets are good.

Because they are from small communities, they have a few of their own words, and generally don't have a fantastic vocabulary (books are rare in the home, and censored at school), but the trustees do want to improve this. They have access to a restricted internet, both at home and school, but get a decent experience of skills, such as searching and using videos via their own channels.

It's a patriarchical society, so even the younger boys can be a bit of a handful. The girls rise above any poor behaviour from them. Everyone you encounter is perfectly pleasant and don't make you feel excluded. They won't eat with you, but will cook for you.

If you play by their rules, and don't get upset by things that don't concern you, then it is a good place to work.

hornblow22 Mon 23-Oct-17 12:54:05

Self directed learning is great and they've been head butting that door for years. It only seems to properly work when class sizes are under 6 and it's what the students truly love doing. It all falls apart when self directed time gets past following instructions to start them off.

Students constantly play up the V.C system by destructing lessons or using it to communicate to other campuses (forbidden but done anyway). They definitely don't feel a part of the hosting school as there is little collaboration. They are mostly lectures.

Students are forced to undertake courses from a narrow range that they are not suited to sometimes. Young Enterprise and Lamda is not very well taught, Food Tech and DT are the higher performing subjects but not taken seriously by the community.

The schools are run by trustees - at the individual campus level by men from within the community - mostly current dads. They are completely in touch with everything that happens at school. Mums play a big part too, especially in organising transport. If you run a school trip, you already have transport and accompanying staff on hand.

The trustees that 'run' the schools are mostly inappropriate at best and do not have time from their businesses to have more than superficial impact. Their views tend to be biased towards the interest of their family members.

Mothers are a never ending resource and always available to help. It's great that they don't work or have professional experience as they're one less group of people to worry about. I'd would have liked to see more women as trustees for obvious reasons but mainly as they have so much time available.

All families love each other dearly, that's for sure. Their trust for outsiders is a root problem to a lot of issues and instability within Focus Schools. Trust is so difficult as the Brethren are so screened and cannot make informed choices. They are susceptible to violation and can be taken advantage of as they are so clueless of the 'real' world. Rather than managing progress they manage barriers. There is nothing wrong with a normal curriculum it is there inability to deal with it. Students find ways to access media which heavily contradicts there beliefs. They are so confused!

They are a very wealthy community and highly focused on material gains

Children are so clued up on how to get around media barriers. It's quite funny when they come to school choosing colloquialisms they don't know the meaning or origin of.

If you are eating in the playground and they approach you to speak, a lot will expect you to stop eating.

If you leave your soul at home, you'll get on great!

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