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Couple have wizard ways of helping teens with studies
HOW does a young person learn things like literacy, numeracy and life skills if they have a complete aversion to conventional schooling?
Swindon couple Jo and Greg Dunningham believe they have the answer.
“We do education by stealth,” said Jo. “For instance, before they start to work on a car they have to use spreadsheets and calculate budgets – that’s maths.
“They use IT skills to do research. They have to go and source parts, so that’s communication skills.
“They have to do problem solving – is that item worth going for? Is it within the budget? Can they afford it? Is it a good buy?
“They have to make those decisions. They’re taking responsibility, they’re taking ownership of the project.”
Greg said: “With regard to English, we get them to read workshop manuals.
“It’s making them work out possibilities and eventualities and methods of achieving something.
“So, for example, when we’re using the engine hoist I ask them how much the engine weighs and whether the hoist can hold it safely.”
Jo and Greg run Wizard Education, a private organisation which caters for young people who have simply found that mainstream schools aren’t for them.
Students are referred by the local authority or its representatives.
This Summer will see Wizard move from its current base in Signal Way to the old George pub building in Eascott Road.
There are generally six to eight students, aged 14 to 16, there at any given time.
They earn qualifications and learn skills ranging from web site design to car repairs, and from health and safety at work to music and art.
There are also Silver Surfer computer classes for the over-50s, whose oldest member is in her 90s.
The young people often help out and are a reassuring presence for the older ones.
Greg, 60, who is originally from Ipswich, was an Intelligence Corps soldier before becoming an accountant. He eventually became the European general manager for Volvo Commercial vehicles and worked in Reading for much of his career, but lived in Swindon because the cost of living was lower.
Jo, 53, is from Dunstable and used to manage exams for the University of Bedfordshire, in Luton.
The two have been together for 14 years and met online. Between them they have five children from previous relationships, two of whom help out at Wizard.
The couple ran a successful cafe at Coate, another in Swindon, and various classic car shows and other events, but five years ago Greg suffered an angina scare and they decided he needed to take things easier –self-confessed workaholic Greg laughs as he reveals this.
What eventually became Wizard Education started as a series of courses for would-be marshals at motorsport events and Greg and Jo’s skills soon came to the attention of the local authority.
“We’re hoping we’ll be officially able to operate as an independent school by September,” said Jo.
It’ll be a school like few others – and if current work is anything to go by, it’ll be a success.
Jo and Greg admit they do not magically remove the challenges facing students.
What they do, though, is ensure young people are equipped with more skills and potential in the education and employment market than they dreamed possible.
One of their favourite moments is when a student looks at a list of achievements and is stunned by it. Jo and Greg say responsibility and mutual support build confidence. “We give them breakfast,” said Greg. “It makes them care for each other. They cook for each other and it builds social skills.
“They choose to come here and some have walked a long way to get here in the rain. I respect that.”
The Wizard Education website is www.wizardeducation.co.uk, and it can also be reached on 01793 522000. They would love to hear from people with old pictures of their new premises, the former George pub.