Jill Brown, Schools' Support Officer Q&A

Jill Brown SSO photo collage

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. 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.