I started my career as a teacher more than 20 years ago, with a Fellowship in an Oxford College. However I had always preferred classroom work with children and so I moved back to secondary education as soon as I finished my research.
Since then I’ve worked in a range of schools and even a Prison College. I joined the first cohort of Future Leaders in 2006 and in recent years I have been a headteacher of a number of secondary schools, working particularly to improve schools in Special Measures.
Most recently, however, I have stepped out of employment to spend time working directly with refugee children. I started a charity and asked a few teacher colleagues to help me open a school to work with Syrian, Iraqi and Afghani children trapped in the refugee camps in Northern France. We maintain a series of blogs and pictures on our website and social media.
"Some of the children have been tortured and are upset. We face daily ongoing child protection issues to do with violence and abuse. The children often turn up injured and are being targeted daily by traffickers and organised crime. "
Over the last six months we have worked with about 500 children. The work has been very challenging as we have numerous language and communication problems. Some of the children have been tortured and are upset. We face daily ongoing child protection issues to do with violence and abuse. The children often turn up injured and are being targeted daily by traffickers and organised crime.
We comfort the children but we are not a youth club. We are a school. We take children who cannot write their name in the western alphabet and we aim to get them counting and writing within a month. Some of our 10 year olds have never attended a school before, so we teach them how to sit on a chair and how to hold a pen. Many of the girls report that they were not allowed to study maths in their schools because ‘girls can’t do maths.’ We prove them wrong and within a month many of the girls are telling us how maths is now their favourite subject. We can’t put right all the damage in their education, but we can certainly get them on the road to recovery with a positive mindset.
The French state was not initially engaging with the children and this is why we came over to work with them. But we have kept the profile of the children high. After eight months we are very pleased to see the local French schools start to engage and we have enjoyed setting up transition projects to get the children interested in attending the French schools.
As we begin to draw to a successful close in France, people have begun to notice that we are one of the very few groups of professional teachers educating refugee children. We are therefore starting to get inundated with requests to help groups of children all around the Mediterranean.
There are about 150,000 refugee children who cannot access education, many of whom are orphans or have war disabilities. Interpol estimates 10,000 have gone missing in the last year alone. One of the requests that has particularly touched us, however, asked us whether we could go and set up a school for 1000 refugee Yazidi girls.
"We can’t change their past, but we can certainly give them a future. "
The internet contains countless stories of the systematic rape, torture, murder, sexual enslavement and burning to death of Yazidi girls. The girls currently lack hope and any sense of a future. We can’t change their past, but we can certainly give them a future. So we are currently trying to raise the funds to enable us to get to them and get a tent-school set up.
We don’t know whether we will be successful in this fund raising, but in the best traditions of Future Leaders, we'll certainly maintain high expectations, make no excuses and persevere trying to do our very best for them.
Dr Rory Fox is the CEO of Edlumino Education Aid. He is an educationalist and humanitarian with over 20 years experience in education.
This piece first appeared as an article for Ambition School Leadership. Read more here.