Heather is Head of Education Development at The Anne Frank Trust UK
What were your favourite subjects and who were your favourite teachers at School?
English and Humanities were always my strong point and interested me the most. I liked discussion and critical thinking as well as how these subjects shine a light on who we are and how we understand ourselves. It’s also worth noting that I had no inherent talent in the expressive arts and PE and was just generally a bit gormless in Maths, Science and Languages.
I’d always loved History and studied it throughout School under Mrs Head and Mr Davies. More surprising to me was my love of Religious Studies which gradually developed into my favourite subject under Mrs Greenhalgh and Dr Brown. I was also lucky enough to enjoy my third A Level of Classical Civilisation with Dr Pratt as well as Mr Jackson and Miss Pilling from the Boys’ Division. Dr Brown became my favourite teacher. Her enthusiasm for any topic she was talking about was evident and although she had very exacting standards I found her to be unfailingly kind.
What further study have you undertaken since leaving School?
My degree is in Theology and Religious Studies from Manchester (via Theology at King’s College London and Divinity at Edinburgh) and I have a PGCE in primary education from Manchester Met.
What does your job involve and how did you progress to your current role?
I work for the Anne Frank Trust UK, an education charity that empowers young people with the knowledge, skills and confidence to challenge all forms of prejudice and discrimination.
I joined in 2008 when I was employed to set up a permanent programme of work in Scotland. The role was a combination of informal teaching in schools, prisons and community settings along with project management. In recent years I’ve built up more of a UK remit and become part of the senior management team. Last year I became Head of Education Development and finally relinquished management of Scotland, with something of a pang, when I moved to York.
My main focus is supporting the education team in expanding its work into new settings and areas whilst ensuring best practice in maintained. I also line manage staff in Scotland, the North East, Yorkshire and Humber and the North West (I’m travelling to Liverpool as I write and will give a little wave to Bolton when I see it in the distance).
Who/what influenced your career choice?
It’s something of a happy accident. By the age of 14 I had already decided that I wanted to become a teacher and set myself on that path with work experience placements and other voluntary work with children. Following teacher training I worked as a primary school teacher in Salford and then took a break following my move to Scotland and the birth of my second child. As I emerged out of the baby bubble, I took on part time work in community education and as the manager for a secondary school library. I was worried that a return to classroom teaching would come at the expense of my family, but wanted something that would give me job satisfaction. I started looking for jobs in the charity sector, not necessarily expecting to find something in which I could use my teaching skills, and almost immediately found the project manager role at the Trust.
Who/what has been your biggest inspiration?
It’s hard not to think of family in response to this question. My parents worked hard and instilled, through exemplification rather than imposition, a sense of steady determination to get where I wanted to be.
I also have a not-quite-unique angle on this question. At the heart of my work is a girl who has become one of the most inspirational figures in history. People find Anne Frank inspiring for different reasons but for me it was her resilience when facing the privations of hiding that have made the biggest impression: “I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!” are the words from Anne’s diary that never fail to move and inspire me.
Which skills and qualities do you consider to be essential for your job?
Communication, organisation, strategic thinking and enthusiasm are the bedrock of this job as they are with many others. I’d also add flexibility and opportunism.
What do you like most about your job?
This is a hard one because there’s a lot to like. On a day-to-day level, I like the diversity of the role and turning my hand to different things along with the variety of people I come into contact with. The thing that keeps me devoted, though, is the knowledge that our work to challenge prejudice is needed more than ever and makes a genuine, proven difference.
What is your biggest challenge in your current role?
This is an easy one: working from home.
What do you consider to be your greatest career achievement?
I worked in several secure units with young people who could be extremely challenging and who had also faced significant challenges. To see them develop their thinking and skills to the extent that they would take time to explain to their peers (and occasionally staff) why their prejudices were unfounded was deeply rewarding. The other is starting our work in Scotland from scratch and reaching around 100,000 people by the time I moved. And I met my partner through work but that probably shouldn’t count as a career achievement.
How did Bolton School help you to be successful in your chosen career?
Bolton School helped in growing a sense of security and confidence in myself. My two English teachers, Mrs Hancock and Mrs Georghiou, can probably take a lot of the credit. This has been something of worth in my life generally, of course, and not just in work.
More specifically, I can look at my career now and can draw a line right back to RS classes with Dr Brown in which we looked at prejudice and discrimination and can remember how it felt like a lightbulb had been turned on. I feel she, and other teachers, taught me to think critically, but engage empathy at the same time. My colleagues don’t realise this, but when I talk at length about having these principles underpinning all our work with young people, I have at the back of my head the impact it made on me as a pupil.
What advice would you give to our pupils interested in your field of work?
Get experience in volunteering for a number of charities in a number of ways to find out what motivates you and to build up a bank of experience. This will help you to direct your studies and/or career path. Look out for internships on the way – some of these will be paid – and, incidentally, it is possible to earn decent salaries in this field of work.
For an educational charity like ours you’ll need to be able to demonstrate belief and commitment to values as well as having relevant experience. The voluntary sector is a deeply competitive field and in an interview setting it’s often the sense of passion that a candidate has that can swing the decision in his or her favour, even giving them the edge over people who, on paper, seem better qualified. If you see a job and you don’t feel you quite have all the relevant skills and qualifications my advice would be to go for it anyway: you might be given the benefit of the doubt and then you’ll have a chance to impress at interview.
If making a positive difference is important to you when deciding on your career then I think you’d find it hard to beat working for a charity.
To find out more about the Anne Frank Trust UK contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Twitter @AnneFrankTrust.