Family & Education

Gateways: Human success stories behind the scenes


Behind the cross-communal extravaganza of JW3s culture centre sits a programme far removed from what chief executive, Raymond Simonson, describes as the kind of sexiness people think happens here.

Every Monday to Friday, the building in north-west London is home to Jewish students from troubled backgrounds who struggle to function in mainstream school.

Mr Simonson says: “These are not your average students. They couldn’t cope in school for all sorts of reasons: problems at home, abuse, drugs, and for 95 per cent of them we are their only form of structure and focus.”

Gateways is a vocational programme for people aged 15 to 25 who are not in education. It is funded entirely by the community. The students can access core academic skills such as maths and English, alongside practical courses in cooking, business and personal training.

Gateways pupil Yoni had virtually no literacy and numeracy skills when he moved to London from Manchester aged 17, after falling out with his family who were part of a “more religious” community.

He says: “I had to live on my own from very young. I didn’t move away from my family. They told me to go. They didn’t like my attitude towards religion.

“It was challenging but, like anything, you get through it.”

Yoni, who was referred to Gateways by the Boys Clubhouse, which tackles addiction problems and criminal behaviour among Jews aged 14 to 25, has been able to study GCSE English for the first time.

He says: “The school I went to when I was younger was very religious and we did nothing in terms of a secular education.

“There are all these concepts that you haven’t learnt and at first it is all very new. But since coming here, my English has improved immensely, as has my maths. I’ve learned business strategies and how to use computers, where I literally knew nothing before.

“Now I am showing my friends how to do things and it feels great.”

Yoni, who wants to study to be a life coach after he gets his GSCEs, says it is hard not to be able to share his success with his family.

“It is very unfortunate. I think family is the most important thing if they are supporting you. But, if they are not, then it is an unnecessary weight on your shoulders.

“The teachers here celebrate you and that is enough for me.”

Laurence Field, head of Gateways, explains that although it might seem hard to get young people from troubled backgrounds to attend the programme, having already dropped out of school, the opposite is true: “Most 21-year-olds have gone to school, gone to college. These students haven’t. But now they want it and that is very important.

“Most of the boys that come to us are from the more Orthodox backgrounds. I knocked on the door of schools and outreach organisations who know their kids could benefit. That was tricky; I got told to go away a lot of the time because some of the Orthodox organisations don’t want to admit they have a problem.

“But, actually, when they realised we weren’t getting involved in teaching Torah they were OK.”

Since Gateways launched two years ago, schools and youth organisations across the community refer pupils to the programme, 88 per cent of whom achieve full attendance.

And for 23-year-old Elisheva, from Golders Green, north London, it has given her the confidence to learn for the first time.

She says: “I did nothing at school. I had 17 per cent attendance because there was so much going on at home and it held me back.

“I didn’t do any exams and I left in year 10. I was more worried about my home life and I wasn’t happy because I didn’t get the support I needed.”

After Elisheva’s father left, her mother struggled to look after six children on her own.

“It was hard to deal with,” she says.

But since she enrolled on the programme in September, Elisheva is receiving one-on-one teaching for maths and English and hopes to sit her GCSEs next year.

“I’ve been able to get to know what I want to do, and that is to be a social worker. For the first time ever, I feel like I can do it — and I will do it, and it is because they make you believe you can,” she says.

English teacher Ali Kosiner left a mainstream Jewish school to teach at Gateways and she has never looked back. “It is really challenging because it can change week by week and you have to think on your feet a lot and adapt to the situation.

“My lesson plans in schools were so rigid and structured but here it is very variable. The one-to-one experience is really rewarding and you get to see real growth in your students,” she says.

But supporting the academic need of students like Elisheva is not the only focus for Gateways staff.

Rachel Newby, education and pastoral services manager, who is in charge of providing additional care to Gateways’ 70 students, says: “We realised early on we needed to get the pastoral care right.

“A lot of them have had negative experiences with their social worker and there is no trust there and what we have been able to do is engage with them without that label.

“The kinds of issues the students deal with are abusive situations and housing difficulties — some of them might be homeless.

“If they are in abusive situations and they tell us about it, we have to report it. I do one-to-one counselling work and sometimes refer on to other therapy services.

“One of the students is in twice a week therapy because of a referral that came through us.”

And the programme has also helped students into work.

Yaakov, 18, from Hendon, north London, is working in the JW3 kitchen as an apprentice alongside doing a professional chef diploma.

He says: “In school, I didn’t get the support that I wanted. I found it hard to concentrate and understand the lessons.

“Gateways offered me a chance to get out of the classroom and have a focus. For two hours a week we cook and learn different techniques; it is hands on and practical and I enjoy that a lot more.

“I didn’t even think I would be good at it at first, but it feels like I have achieved my goal and I know what path to follow, when I didn’t have that before.”


The names of students mentioned in this article have been changed

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