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The next instalment of After Heriot’s sees us chat with Andrew Skinner (2003) who is continuing to distribute chearfullie in his role at Harmeny School – an incredible charity that supports some of Scotland’s most remarkable young people. Andrew explained how his Heriot’s education and ethos inspired him to get to where he is today. It’s incredible to see FPs living by George Heriot’s motto of giving in kindness and Andrew proves how rewarding such a profession can be.
Please get in touch if you wish to share your story ‘after Heriot’s’.
You have continued to follow in George Heriot’s footsteps and distribute chearfullie beyond the gates of Lauriston Place. Tell us more about the school you now work for and its trust?
Harmeny School is run by the charity, Harmeny Education Trust and supports some of Scotland’s most remarkable young people aged 5-14 who have experienced abuse, neglect and significant family disruption in their early years. The impact of these traumatic experiences on their development and education is profound, with many struggling to form positive relationships, displaying very challenging behaviours and acute anxiety. They are often way behind with their learning due to multiple placement breakdowns; some even arrive at Harmeny without the ability to play – a fundamental skill for learning. Harmeny supports 24 young people on a residential basis plus 6 day pupils who have found mainstream education inaccessible for their needs. Moving forward we are increasing our capacity, allowing us to continue to care and educate young people up to 18 years of age and, as such, we are fundraising for and building a purpose built, £1.95m Learning Hub which will include classes for secondary age young people, vocational workshops and a new and improved outdoor education centre. This new hub will allow Harmeny to continue to improve it’s already sector leading levels of care and education and will support the implementation of outcomes from the Independent Care Review and subsequently the report known as The Promise. Links to the project and build are here: www.harmeny.org.uk/appeal
What is involved in your specific role at the school?
My role as Day Service Manager is to work within the Education Management Team to support and manage a staff team in providing the most appropriate levels of care and education for the young people and their families who attend Harmeny on a day pupil placement and the wider school community. This role is not only exciting – with no two days being the same – but it also provides me with a huge sense of both job and personal satisfaction, being able to see the sometimes-daily but also weekly, monthly and yearly developments that these young people can make and their smiles when recognising their own achievements is just fantastic.
What was your path to get there?
Upon leaving Heriot’s I embarked upon a Primary Education degree at Strathclyde University however it became apparent this wasn’t quite the direction for me and after 18 months I left the course to find my vocation elsewhere. Throughout my childhood I was involved with the Scout movement and having progressed from Beavers up to Explorer Scout Leader I had the opportunity to take a group of young people to Malaysia for three weeks doing community work and learning about their culture. Upon return from this trip I successfully attained a position at a residential secondary school in Fife; where I have attained numerous qualifications including the Social Services (Children and Young People) management qualification which enabled me to take up the post of Unit Manager and oversee the wellbeing, care and development of 7 young people and the management of ten staff. Following an unorthodox interview where, Via Zoom – dressed in a suit and slippers – I accepted the offer to join the team at Harmeny as Day Service Manager where I have been able to incorporate the skills and knowledge gained from the care side of residential to enhance and develop the service provided for day pupils and support the growth of the school as it embarks on the expansion to accommodate the new Learning Hub and pupils.
What are your top achievements?
Throughout my fifteen years working with young people I am most proud of hearing from the young people themselves who have passed through our care and hearing of their achievements and how we have contributed and supported these. I think also, the ability to complete qualifications whilst working and being able to support my own personal career progression really works for me, however all of these are only stepping stones to be able to provide the best levels of support that I can for the young people I work with.
From a personal side, my biggest achievements are the birth of my two kids and my own involvement in a range of sporting events. I have completed the Edinburgh Marathon, the Coast to Coast (a 114miles endurance race across Scotland, running, cycling and kayaking for over 14hours in one day) and I currently race Enduro Mountain Biking for an environmentally friendly clothing brand – Crow Mountain Biking as well as racing in endurance events such as the Strathpuffer (24hour mountain bike race) and the Glentress 7 (a 7hour endurance race).
What are your two abiding memory of Heriot’s?
Among the many memories I have from my thirteen years at Heriot’s, there were two opportunities that I had within my 6th year that I believe helped me onto the path that I have walked for the last 15 years. I was fortunate enough to support a young person through a community project that Heriot’s were involved in throughout 2002-2003. This allowed me to befriend a young person and support them with some homework and play one evening a week and was essentially one of my first introductions to the social care setting.
The other memory I have is of being in Art class with Mrs. Newman. All conversations were very positive and discussions were often about what we did well, what were our strengths and what personal attributes we had that would help and guide us later in life. This strengths-based approach is something I continue to use and promote throughout my work with both adults and young people to this day. The foundation and confidence that she instilled in me over the final few years of my education have stood me in good stead.
Tell us your two ‘takeaways’ from Heriot’s days:
I think the easy answer here for me would be the school motto of “Distribute Chearfullie” which was also instilled through the school ethos of distributing kindness and support. I have pursued a career which engages with the community and supports the development of young people whom have not been as fortunate as ourselves. Harmeny is a registered charity, investing time and money in young people to develop successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors. But I think that Heriot’s gave me other skills and resources in my toolbox that have allowed me to reach my goals. Secondly, the support and guidance provided by the teachers to encourage me to push myself and achieve the best out of my work – they knew me and they knew how well I could do and would push for this constantly. This work ethic is something I now hold myself accountable to. Could I have done better? Can I do more? Are often questions I ask myself when reflecting back on my practice.
Any top tips for current pupils when planning their future?
Be flexible. I find it important to have a goal or a path to follow but be prepared to make changes or even move sideways. When I left school, I was determined to be a teacher but the world of Social Care was relatively unknown to me at 17. Now I work alongside teachers and a range of other professionals to provide a fully supportive care and education package and have really found my calling. Ask lots of questions, learn as much as you can and always strive to be the best version of yourself. Be willing to take risks and change your mind but whatever you try, give it a fair chance and your full commitment.