CSSC staff Q&A
Learn more about CSSC staff and their responsibilities day to day.
Find out more about the CSSC staff.
Read Jayne's Q&A depicting her career journey which lead Jayne to become CSSC's Head of Education Support.
Tell us about your career and what has led you to your current post as Head of Education Support at the Controlled Schools’ Support Council (CSSC)
After graduating from Stranmillis College, I was delighted to be offered my first teaching post in Strandtown Primary School. During my time there I was seconded to Stranmillis for a term to lecture in the Physical Education Department and support students on school experience. After 11 years of experience, teaching both in Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2, I was appointed as Vice Principal in Orangefield Primary School. In 2002 I was appointed to the North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) where I initially held the post of Primary Officer with responsibility for nursery and primary provision. I was appointed as an Assistant Senior Education Officer for Children and Young People's Services in 2011 and this post transferred to the Education Authority in 2015.
When did you take up this position?
I took up my current post as Head of Education Support with the Controlled Schools’ Support Council in October 2016. It was a bit strange to apply for a post in an organisation that didn’t exist and having worked in a very safe employment environment throughout my career, it was a significant leap of faith to leave this security to work for a new organisation. Having been a pupil in controlled schools, a teacher in the sector and later through my work within the NEELB, I believed that having an advocacy body to represent the interests of controlled schools was really important. Working as a member of the Senior Management Team (SMT) of CSSC from the outset, helping to shape the organisation and having responsibility for the development of the education department was a tremendous opportunity.
What does your job role entail? (What does a typical day / week look like?)
As a member of the Senior Management Team I work closely with the Chief Executive and SMT colleagues reporting monthly to Council and bi-monthly to the Education and Research Committee on the work of the Education Department. I highly value the support of our Council members. They are representative of all the key stakeholders within the sector and extremely committed to their roles. They both support and challenge officers, guiding the work we do with wisdom and a vast collective experience. This is both encouraging and motivating for the staff team.
I lead and manage a team of five Schools' Support Officers providing support across the six corporate aims of the organisation. There is no typical day or week! My plans for the day are often displaced as issues arise and my priority is to enable the team to be highly effective in their roles. Having had the privilege of recruiting the education team, I was in the enviable position of selecting staff with individual strengths and expertise that complement my own and colleagues who share the same core values and commitment to the vision of the organisation. A significant amount of my time is devoted to area planning, a key function of the organisation. All Schools' Support Officers are involved in area planning and it is a huge privilege to represent the sector in this work. The establishment of CSSC has meant that for the first time controlled schools have an advocate speaking on their behalf and representing their interests.
How will the increase of Schools' Support Officers from four to five impact on the work with controlled schools?
Feedback has confirmed that schools value the Schools' Support Officer role. I was delighted to welcome Derek Harkness and Andrew Brown, Schools' Support Officers, to the team this year as they bring additional skills and experience to the organisation, further extending the vast knowledge and expertise of the team. From September 2019, the increase to five Schools' Support Officers gave me the opportunity to reorganise the deployment of officers to support individual schools, enhancing efficiencies within the CSSC support model and more closely aligning support with the EA locality model. Each Schools' Support Officer has approximately 110 schools, which is still demanding, but the geographical areas which they cover have been reduced to enable officers to build strong professional relationships with schools and develop their knowledge of the unique context of individual schools.
Obviously you enjoy every element of your role. However, is there a certain aspect of your job that you find particularly rewarding?
I love it when I receive feedback from schools which demonstrates the impact that the support from CSSC is having. Principals and Governors clearly have a high respect for the officers and their dedication, reliability and determination to help in finding solutions or in providing reassurance on a course of action.
It has been very rewarding over the last three years to watch the team develop and grow in their roles. Jill Brown, Schools' Support Officer has led two successful applications for Erasmus+ funding which has resulted in the successful implementation of a strategic European partnership involving collaboration with Ireland, Scotland, Denmark and Finland. In November 2019 I had the privilege of accompanying 18 senior leaders from controlled schools on an Erasmus+ Mobility to Finland and Estonia to explore practice in these two high performing countries.
Recently we had the launch of the CSSC Ethos self-evaluation toolkit. This was the result of three years’ work in partnership with controlled schools which Heather McKenzie, Schools' Support Officer, has led.
Tracey Woods, Schools' Support Officer, is currently implementing the second sign language programme in primary schools. Following the success of last years’ programme 2019/20 has seen an enhanced programme including professional development for teaching and non-teaching staff as a result of successful applications for grants from the Department of Communities.
Derek Harkness and Andrew Brown, Schools' Support Officers, have brought additional leadership expertise to the team and have experience in coaching and mentoring Principals. I am looking forward to supporting the development of their roles within the team.
What are the challenges in Education Support?
Schools are facing unprecedented challenges in a number of ways. School budgets are under severe pressure, there are increasing numbers of pupils presenting with special educational needs and many with greater complexity of need. We have some ‘state of the art’ school buildings; many schools, however, require significant investment to make them fit for purpose and to provide the high quality learning environment that all pupils in controlled schools should have. CSSC cannot on its own resolve these issues; we are, however, committed to working in partnership with DE, EA and other stakeholders to ensure education is sufficiently resourced to enable schools to continue to provide high quality education for our children and young people.
What was the best piece of advice given to you?
Working in education is one of the most influential careers you can embark on and for me has been rewarding, challenging at times but enormously enjoyable. Relationships are at the heart of what we do as teachers and that has remained a priority for me in my roles within educational administration and in my current post. Two pieces of advice have greatly influenced me, firstly, to stay true to your values and secondly, not to rush into decisions but to take time to reflect to ensure that your decision achieves the right outcome.
Jill Brown, Schools' Support Officer shares Q&A and talks about working in these unprecedented times.
When did you take up this position with CSSC?
I took up my current post as a Schools’ Support Officer in CSSC in February 2017. My career has been quite varied and spans over 30 years in education. I began my career in Bangor Girls’ High School, where I taught for almost three years. I then moved to the Cayman Islands where I taught in an American system, Christian High School for three years. Upon returning home, I was a stay-at-home mum for several years before entering back into teaching part-time in further education, the Lindsay Special School and lecturing in Stranmillis University College. I was then seconded to the Learning and Skills Development Agency, where I worked in quality improvement and post-inspection support for post-16. After the secondment, I became permanent and latterly led national projects focused on improving practice across the further education and training sector. It was during this time, that I became involved in European projects. At the end of 2011, the economic downturn led to the demise of LSDA and I became more involved with European projects, leading transnational cooperation activities on behalf of the UK national agency and providing reciprocal professional development opportunities for Northern Irish and European teachers.
What does your job role entail? (What does a typical day / week look like during these unprecedented times?)
Life has changed for all of us and yet much of the work remains the same.
In the last few weeks I have worked as part of a Cross-organisational Team alongside colleagues in CSSC, EA, ETI and CCMS as a Link Officer providing support for a number of schools from Lisburn to the Ards Peninsula. I have had the privilege of listening to and seeking resolutions to the concerns and queries from Principals regarding issues ranging from: online learning to paper-based learning packs and blended learning; human resource queries to the cleaning of schools and equipment; induction for nursery pupils to phased retirement applications. I have also researched effective practice in remote learning and contributed to the Continuity of Learning project.
Our core work continues. Last week I was engaging with Principals of post primary controlled schools and prepared a draft CSSC response to the CCEA consultation on the appeals process for summer 2020. Next week will involve engaging with Principals of controlled schools and drafting responses to two development proposals for Council’s consideration and approval. Technology will facilitate my participation in the multi-agency team meetings involved in the THRiVE project seeking innovative solutions to address underachievement in the Rathcoole and Monkstown area. I shall also be compiling a report for Council on outcomes of inspection reports for controlled schools over the current academic year and planning how to capture the dissemination activities and impact of the CSSC led study visit to Finland and Estonia.
Obviously you enjoy every element of your role. However, is there a certain aspect of your job that you find particularly rewarding in the current situation?
At CSSC, we are a small team of committed professionals from diverse backgrounds led by a Council and senior management team with a wealth of experience and expertise in all aspects of education. As we seek to support schools through this current situation, it is a great privilege and joy to hear from Principals about the creative and innovative approaches that staff are using to engage and inspire children. Each day I hear of teachers working really hard, coming to grips with new learning for themselves, whilst planning, preparing and providing feedback to children on a daily basis. Staff are reassuring and supporting children and parents/carers, making pastoral calls to children, looking out for the vulnerable children, providing additional support for children with SEN, encouraging families that need some extra support, communicating with other agencies and DE as well as completing the ‘normal’ paperwork. For many staff life also includes supporting home learning for their own children or looking after elderly parents.
I am very proud to be part of the support provided by CSSC to the controlled sector at this time and of the impact that our schools are making to the lives of our children.
What are the challenges in your job during these unusual times?
The Coronavirus has changed how we in CSSC operate. Remote working has become the current reality for all in CSSC bringing with it both challenges and opportunities. Much of our existing work can be conducted online or through telephone conversations. Recent access to technologies such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and WhatsApp has been invaluable in maintaining contact within our team, connecting with colleagues in schools and collaborating with other organisations.
As we continue through these uncertain times, some of the greatest challenges that we face include supporting the mental health and wellbeing of children, young people, staff and colleagues and addressing the widening gaps in equality that are exacerbated through differences in home circumstances, limited access to devices or connectivity related challenges. At CSSC, we are committed to working alongside policy makers and other key stakeholders to support schools as we all navigate uncharted waters in the challenging journey ahead.