Monday 21st September 2020

Professor Alison Baverstock, founder of the Reading Force charity, and Professor of Publishing at Kingston University, has campaigned to have the specific needs of Forces children incorporated into teacher training programmes across the UK. Through working with Kingston’s School of Education these have been added to the PGCE syllabus at Kingston – and the initiative is now being more widely shared across higher education.

The Times Higher Education (THE) Awards, known as ‘The Oscars’ in the sector, are the biggest celebration of higher education in the UK, recognising outstanding work and activity across universities and its impact in society.

This shortlisting is in the ‘Widening Participation’ category and is for ongoing support to the military community. Firstly for Reading Force which was set up by Professor Baverstock from Kingston in 2011 and secondly for the work on improving awareness among teachers of Forces children, and how to better support them.

Professor Alison Baverstock

The two initiatives are closely interconnected. Professor Baverstock explains:

‘Reading Force taught us that Forces children are less likely to go to higher education than their civilian counterparts, so it seemed logical to extend understanding of their particular issues and vulnerabilities – as well as the many positives they bring – to those likely to be teaching them in future. Kingston’s School of Education was a very willing partner and we worked together to embed the programme – which is now being more widely shared. With the Forces New Accommodation Model likely to result in the wider geographical spread of Forces families in the UK, this is timely – and also increases an awareness of career opportunities for teachers in training.’

The Reading Force charity supports serving and ex-serving Forces families to share books and chat about them as a way to stay close and connected during deployments and to enjoy books together when at home. The ‘read and chat’ initiative gives books and special scrapbooks to tri-service families and is proven to help improve communication within families.

There are an estimated 130,000 children from Forces families in schools across the United Kingdom. Current teacher training courses cover how to recognise a child at risk or spot those with learning difficulties but there was no introduction to the significant population of Forces children, who formed a significant population.

In the first 2019 teacher training seminar at Kingston University, PGCE students heard from researchers, policy makers, Forces support groups, education and military professionals and military families themselves. They heard about issues facing Forces children, how they can be supported as they transition between schools, how to reach and engage Forces parents, and how to connect Forces children with their peers in school. This work is now being shared within universities more widely; a significant development of the support available to Forces families.

Clare Jackson, Senior Lecturer, Department of Education, Kingston University, comments:

‘The students on the PGCE teaching programmes have very much appreciated the opportunity to learn about the lives of Forces families from the perspective of parents, children, policy makers, education and military professionals. The seminars held within the School of Education have supported the development of our trainee teachers.

Students also gained an awareness of the rich life experiences that Forces pupils might bring with them into the classroom. Feedback from the trainee teachers following the sessions indicated that they now felt better prepared to support Forces children and their families and that this would impact positively on their teaching and subsequently on each child’s learning.’

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