Uplands School executive head teacher Jackie Smith, 49, was made MBE in the Queen’s 90th birthday honours list for her work with young people who have special educational needs. Uplands has been rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. Jackie, who lives near Cricklade, has a partner, Simon, and is the mother of two daughters
WELL-MEANING people used to suggest to Jackie Smith that it would be a great thing to have a single huge educational campus for disabled people of all ages.
She always rejected the idea.
She says: “Why would I want a silo where all disabled kids go, and all disabled adults? We don’t want that.
“We need small pockets so that we are out in that community, where we belong and where they belong, so they’re breaking down barriers of disability.”
Uplands School caters for students aged from 11 to 19 with a range of significant disabilities, many of whom arrive after primary education at nearby Brimble Hill School.
In 2012, three years after arriving at Uplands, Jackie established a private company which would soon become a charity, Uplands Educational Trust.
The trust has grown to include a range of activities across the Swindon area.
Three charity shops provide work experience for young people with disabilities as well as raising funds, a college trains more than 60 young adults for roles in the community and a residential building run with a housing association is both a hall of residence and a stepping stone to independent living.
There are growing links with employers and mainstream colleges.
The trust also has the Community Enterprise Centre in Penhill, which is a facility for the whole community run by people with disabilities.
Jackie began the trust because she realised students were not being enabled to reach their potential beyond school age.
She says: “At 19 they came to this huge cliff edge and then fell off it.
“The majority fell off it and stayed at home and did nothing. If they were very lucky their parents got them an out-of-borough residential placement which they didn’t want to go to, or some of the very able may have gone to Swindon College, but the majority just fell off the cliff edge.
“Education stopped at 19 and social care would pick up where they could.
“That wasn’t good enough. What’s the point in us preparing them, giving them all these opportunities, for there to be nothing afterwards when they’re such capable young people that can contribute to society?
“That’s the whole ethos. The vision around Uplands Educational Trust was helping disabled young people help themselves.
“I work quite a lot with employers. It was all about saying, ‘actually, our young people have the skills that you need for your business.’ I want them in paid employment. I do not mean 37 hours a week, 52 weeks a year – I mean paid employment that might be part-time.
“They will be shown how to do a job.
“It might take a bit longer to train them, and they might have to be shown in a particular way, but once they’ve learned that skill they will use that skill without faltering and they’ll be reliable for the next 30 years.
“The workplace is crying out for young people like ours.”
Jackie was born on the Isle of Wight.
Her father was a financial adviser, tax consultant and entrepreneur and her mother a hair stylist.
The family moved to South Africa when Jackie was six months old, to Australia when she was five and back to Britain when she was in her late teens.
Jackie stayed when the family returned to Australia.
She says: “I suppose I always knew I was going to teach. I never knew what I was going to teach.
“I quite wanted to be an art teacher for a while. Maths is my subject and that’s what I trained in, in the end – secondary school maths teacher.
“I think it’s about your personality. I don’t come from a family of teachers, whereas my children now come from a family of teachers because my sister teaches.”
Jackie’s elder daughter, born when Jackie was quite young, is profoundly deaf, and Jackie says this may have influenced the direction of her teaching career.
“When I qualified as a secondary maths teacher I taught in a mainstream secondary school in Salisbury, an all-boys comp in a grammar-selected area.
“I had always said I would teach for two years in a mainstream school. Then I moved into special education. My daughter – my eldest – would have been about 10 years old then.”
Jackie then worked at a school, in Romsey for boys with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. Her next post was in Wales, where she ran a pupil referral unit, and she went on to run a large special needs department at a comprehensive school in Barry.
Her next job was as deputy head of a special school in Poole, where she remained for two years until becoming Uplands head in 2009. She readily acknowledges that her appointment came as a surprise, albeit a pleasant one.
She says: “I must admit it was a practice interview.”
Jackie leads a team of about 270 staff, with responsibility for more than 250 young people.
She says: “I came here in April of 2009 as head teacher, and changed just about everything there was to change within a special school, with a staff that were absolutely willing to change, wanted it to be different, wanted to do things innovatively and to do things because of the students.
“We changed the curriculum, we changed the way we delivered our lessons, we changed the staffing structure.
“Everything was reviewed and given a fresh start.”
Jackie was promoted to executive head in 2013.
Being made MBE delighted her, but, like many people honoured, she is at pains to praise others, from the team at school to the loved ones and friends at home, who help her to juggle her various responsibilities.
She adds: “Our students and our families are the most important thing.
“I do the things I do always for the students, always for the learners, the young people. We get it done because of that.
“It’s about doing it differently, it’s about thinking outside the box and it’s about being brave and not saying, ‘oh, I can’t do that because of…’”
Uplands Educational Trust welcomes inquiries from potential volunteers and other helpers. Its website is uplandseducationaltrust.org.uk.