Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson hailed the work of Gateways as she attended the official launch of the charity’s new base, which provides out-of-school tuition to young people with social, emotional and mental health challenges.
Having inspected its facilities at Norwood’s Kennedy Leigh Centre in Hendon, she said: “It’s wonderful to see the provision that you have delivered here.”
Guests enjoyed canapés made by students as an example of some of the skills they have been learning at Gateways’ new home. It has a gym along with designated therapy and subject rooms that are far better suited to teaching in one-to-one sessions or in small groups — while what was once a cupboard has been converted into a small hangout zone for students to relax in.
Students who had problems with ordinary schooling, said they were flourishing in a more intimate environment, where they can take vocational courses in hair and beauty, cooking or photography, as well as exams in such subjects as English, maths and science.
“There are challenges that schools alone, education alone can’t meet,” said Phillipson. “And that is why high quality alternative provision has to be a part of the solution for our children and young people.”
Founded 10 years ago under the umbrella of the London Jewish Cultural Centre, Gateways moved to Hampstead when the cultural centre merged with JW3, becoming independent last year. Since its migration to Hendon, it has increased its student roll from 37 in September to 52.
“We have a waiting list,” said headteacher Sasha Sharpe, who took the reins at the start of the new academic year. “On average, we get three to four new referrals a week and enquiries on a daily basis.”
As an alternative provider, it can offer a maximum 15 hours a week. But that was ample to help shepherd students through exams. “With quality teaching, in the right, personalised way, we get them through,” she said.
Gateways alumna Elianna Green, who is now studying at the Elstree Screen Arts Academy, said medical issues had caused her difficulties at school, “including anxiety about missing lessons and ultimately missing school for weeks at a time.
“At Gateways, I felt comfortable and assured. I had the option to sit my exams over several years. With the support from Gateways and their flexibility, I was able to focus on each individual subject without getting overwhelmed.”
The organisation, she said, had made her “feel like a person again”.
Nadine Gordon described how the experience of her daughter Romy had been “life-changing” after she had been introduced to the organisation at the age of 14. “For the first time ever, it became clear that Romy was keen to learn. She was self-motivated, she was completing homework off her own back.
“She was more stable, she was engaging with her learning like never before; she was beginning to grow in confidence, and each day was a step closer to her recovery.”
The new centre was made possible by two trusts in particular, the Gerald and Gail Ronson Family Foundation and the Wohl Legacy.
Founding director Laurence Field said: “Ten years ago, we identified an unmet need in the community, a silent cry for help from young people who found mainstream education a daunting, and for some people, an unachievable experience.”
The launch marked “the beginning of a new chapter, where we will continue to create, here in our new home, a safe space, where many, many more students can achieve, even in the face of adversity.”
One new offering is a six-week course — “Survival skills for solo cooks” — designed to help students develop life skills.