With a little guidance, vulnerable kids can change their own lives
Growing up in Hackney, Hussein saw how vital having aspirations were to someone's future life chances.
He’s since set up CAPE Mentors, an outreach programme helping excluded children to change the path they’re on, by getting back to full-time education.
We moved from Somalia in the late 1980s and settled in Hackney. It was very different back then – not a lot was expected of kids and the schools weren’t always places you could get an education.
My mum moved us to Holloway, into the catchment area of a school where the expectations would be higher. The rent we were paying was crazy though, so once we were enrolled at the school we moved back to Hackney, where we felt most at home.
Growing up, it felt like my friends lived in a different world – they had a different experience of school and weren’t given the opportunities any child needs to achieve what they can. I saw the impact that had.
Deciding to make a difference
After university, I initially worked in a marketing agency. I loved it, but then my dad passed away, which made me reconsider what mattered to me. I’d always found working with young people fun, and I felt I could be a positive influence for the kids who looked like me and came from the places I did.
So I joined Teach First’s Training Programme, starting in a primary school near to where I grew up. I wasn’t sure about teaching primary at first but decided to just go for it, and it ended up being the best thing that’s happened to me. I was teaching a bit of everything, in a great school, with a lovely mentor and lots of Somali kids.
Ready for the challenge of the Training Programme
After my training I joined a Key Stage 3 Pupil Referral Unit in Islington, because I wanted to work with the kids who were furthest away from where they should be. Having grown up in communities like theirs, I wasn’t scared of the kids and found I could de-escalate situations with a bit of compassion and patience. There can be an argument and then five minutes later it’s fine.
The school failed its OFSTED inspection during my first few weeks there. Then a year later I became assistant headteacher and found I had so much license to improve things. The school was very open to new ideas and we ended up in a very positive place, making good progress with kids.
Alternative paths for children at risk
In 2019 I started CAPE Mentors (Creative Alternative Paths for Education), an outreach programme. We work with qualified teachers to create a short-term curriculum to engage kids who are excluded or at risk of it, then help them return to – or stay in – school. Essentially we’re backing schools up during unsettled periods, helping them reach more children and provide a fresh start.
Connections that keep giving
Our work’s just grown and grown. And my connection with Kiran Gill, another Teach First ambassador, has proved proper helpful.
She initially found me through the ambassador network, and we met to discuss her social enterprise ‘The Difference’, which was then at an early-stage. A year later, we bumped into each other at a conference, where she asked me to appear in her charity’s promotional video.
Off the back of that I appeared on the BBC, and ended up meeting other Teach First ambassadors who suggested CAPE Mentors enter the Innovation Award, which we won. We also found two summer interns through the ambassador community.
There are so many opportunities and connections in the community – there are lots of unexpected ways it helps you achieve what you’re trying to do. And I know it will keep on providing a platform to promote our work and reach more kids.
Providing space for kids to change their lives
We worked with one boy recently who was mixed up in some county lines drug dealing. After being found by police in a ‘trap house’, he was moved out of the borough for his own safety. From our first tuition/mentoring session he was amazing. Through our network, we got him a placement at an estate agent, and would pick him up after work so he could get his work done too.
He was an amazing young man. He settled so quickly and is now back with his family, and in education with good attendance. To compare who he was on paper with what he was able to do… it’s incredible.
But it was he who changed his own life – we just provided that space for him to do something positive.
Like Hussein, if you've completed any of our programmes, that makes you a Teach First ambassador. You are now part of a community changing education for the better. Our community consists of teachers, leaders, policymakers and beyond, bringing their expertise to help unlock the potential in all children. No matter where you've chosen to go after your time with Teach First, as an ambassador, you're a critical part of the solution to ending educational inequality.
Find out more about how you can stay connected and continue to make an impact, below:
If you're interested in developing your career with us, explore our leadership programmes: