Meet the Staff: Sara Speirs

In the latest of our Meet the Staff series we interviewed Sara Speirs, a valued member of our excellent Learning Support team at Glenalmond College.

Sara Speirs Low Res

How long have you been working at Glenalmond? I am just finishing my seventh year -  I joined Glenalmond in January 2015.

What is a summary of your job, and what it entails? I am a specialist assessor and teacher of Learning Support. I am the only specialist assessor in the College. This role means that I am responsible for administering the screening programme to identify students who have a genuine underlying learning difficulty so that appropriate arrangements can be put in place to remove barriers to learning (extra time/reader/scribe etc). Each year we screen all 3rd form students and all lower sixth students to try and ensure that all students who require some genuine assistance are identified. Additionally we screen all new pupils to the school. 

In advance of GCSEs/A-levels I formally assess students. I administer a broad range of psychometric assessments so that an appliaction can be made to the JCQ for the appropriate access arrangements. I also complete the documentation required by JCQ inspectors with regards to access arrangements. 

As a teacher of Learning Support I provide additional support so that students can access the curriculum. This can be in  the form of one to one/group teaching/ adhoc support. I act as a scribe/reader during assessments so that students can access their exam arrangements. We support students who come out of academic lessons so that they can receive more Learnining Support intervention and we run a prep club (for those students who might struggle to complete prep independently).

How did you get into this field of work? I was a History teachers at King’s College School Wimbledon for in excess of 10 years before I came to Glenamond. Alongside this I was also Assistant Head of House and devised the PSHE syllabus.  I  initially joined Glenalmond as a Teacher of Learning Support when I moved from London as it seemed like a natural progression. Five years ago, following two years of further study,  I gained my Level 7 Post Graduate Award of Proficiency in Assessments for Access Arrangements (PAPAA) which combined the units of understanding the principles of pyschometric testing and assessing for access arrangements.

Where did you work before you came to Glenalmond? I worked at King’s College School Wimbledon and was an examiner for the International Baccalaureatte (History).

What is the best thing about working at Glenalmond? I love the setting. It is a stunning area across all four seasons. I drive in from Stirling each day and I never tire of the scenery and wildlife.

What is your favourite part of your role? I get enormous satisfaction from enabling students to realise their full potential. Access to extra time or a reader and scribe arrangement can make a huge difference to a student with underlying difficulties and, for most, it allows them to get the grades that most accurately reflect their ability. I also get satisfaction with working with individuals and small groups. It enables you to get to know the students much better and you can see more easily the value of the support. I also like the accessibility of the Department. It is available for all, regardless of difficulty, and we provide a safe learning environment.

Is there anything people might find surprising about your role? The number of students under our remit. The statistics released from the JCQ last year identified that 21.9% of students nationwide have extra time in examinations. Testing/Asssessing is becoming more effective and more students are being identified as genuinely requiring support. Approximately one third of the students at College have LS support in some capacity, be it with reading/spelling initiatives, access arrangements, prep support, one to one/group sessions, mentoring.

How important is teamwork in the Learning Support dept? Teamwork is vital not just within the department but across the school. Teachers play a vital role in identiying students who are struggling and so effective communication and collaboration is vital. Teamwork within the Department is essential. Learning Support  is an incredibly busy and pressurised department and so it is important to have supportive colleagues and excellent communication so that we can offer the best degree of support to our students.

What do you enjoying doing in your free time? Spending time with my family. I am married and have two daughters who are 12 & 10 and I thoroughly love their company.  We enjoy walking our dogs, going on holiday, cinema, shopping, games etc. I also enjoy reading, exercise, eating and spending time with good friends.

Where is your favourite holiday destination? West Coast of Scotland, Playa Blanca (Lanzarote), Orlando.  I couldn’t pick just one - i have incredible memories from all three.