Real life stories

Whether you're thinking about your job or training options, there's almost certainly somebody, somewhere, with a story to tell that might help inspire you to make your next move.

Dinah Kennington - Parent support adviser

Name: Dinah Kennington

Job Role: Parent support adviser

School: Woodfield Primary School, Plymouth

Bio: Worked previously as a NVQ assessor and tutor, teaching assistant and pastoral assistant

Parent Support Advisers (PSAs) were originally placed in some schools as part of a government-funded initiative to encourage parents to engage with the school and support their child's learning. This was a new role of offering a confidential service, signposting and finding out information for parents.

What became more evident in the time the role has been introduced is that many parents came to see a PSA to talk, not just of school issues but a whole host of other concerns linked to poverty, domestic and sexually abuse, alcohol and drugs abuse, housing, debt and  mental health issues, to name but a few.  It has also become a role of building up trust with parents and being allowed to gain an insight to their needs. Today, the majority of schools have a PSA now working as part of the school support staff team. 

I'm not really sure how my career path has brought me to the role of a PSA, but my interests and background training and experiences have been very much linked to working within supportive roles. I have worked previously as a NVQ assessor and tutor, teaching assistant and pastoral assistant and after completing a BA (Hons) degree in Childhood studies I was becoming more intrigued with how we develop as individuals and what makes us who we are.

The workload of PSAs increased dramatically as the role became more well-known. They were becoming inundated with parents' and carers' requests of needing support. In my area a bank of PSAs was set up to support existing PSAs. I was accepted for the role of the bank staff and attended a trainign course delivered by the Plymouth Parent Partnership. They were also the people who created the role in schools in our area and acted as our line managers. In addition to the training, I also completed an NVQ level 3 linked to the job role.

I started working as a PSA firstly at an all-girls grammar school in Plymouth and remained there for 2 years before moving on to another local school in 2011. The school has a community feel to it and is smaller than average. We are one of the few schools in the area that have such small numbers and only one class intake per year. The needs of the parents across the different schools have been very different. This has made for a great learning environment for me and helped me gain so many experiences. 

No day is ever the same when it comes to my workload so there’s never ever a dull moment and you never know what will come your way. I have also observed that no two PSAs work the same either. Much of this is due to working within your own school and area community and adapting to the needs of those pupils and families living there. I feel working within the school community as a PSA we can be a little in the background without many recognising the deep levels of work we actually do because of the confidential nature. It is often joked that I make a good cup of tea! We also work solo so the job can be very isolating and as a PSA I have found I have had to make great efforts to be part of the school staff team because of this. I have also maintained a PSA network and regularly meet with other PSAs to exchange information and have the opportunity to off-load. It’s a great system for updating knowledge and everyone is so supportive.

There is the continual need for PSAs to keep up to date with alterations and modifications with outside services and to learn all I can of what is out there to assist with the support of parents. As a result of this I sign myself on to any free training that professionals offer and they are only too willing to help and share knowledge.

There have been big changes in the role of the PSA throughout the years and where once the job was thought of as an advisory and signposting service we have become very much a support network which offers a greater variety of needs, extending to the needs of the family. Sadly, due to funding cuts I have seen the decline of several support services where once parents could be signposted and now observe huge waiting lists to access support, so to me the need for PSAs is even greater. What is lacking is more of a promotion of who PSAs are, how effectual they can be and what they do because they are still many people who don’t know about our role.

I consider my job unique and still fairly new as a post within the educational world. It has been one of the most rewarding and demanding roles I have ever undertaken and some of the greater stories I have been privileged and privy to is that of dealing with parents in the throes of desperation who have been supported to break the mould. Yes, I do have days of wondering why I’m doing this job and I often feel emotionally drained but I look at what I’ve learnt, achieved and experienced and it all makes the job all worthwhile.

Dinah Kennington