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A Day in the Life of...

Tracey Plane – Head of Learning, FE Department

posted 22 May 2017, 04:16 by James Dorey

When I started my teacher training at the University of Bath, I always remember being asked the question ‘where do you want to be in 3 years’ time’? Most people would answer with ‘a head of department’, ‘head of year’, etc., but I answered with ‘being a PE teacher in a special needs school.’ My college tutor said that this wasn’t a job and people just don’t become PE teachers in special schools.

In my third year of teaching I became a PE teacher at Columbus School and College in 2009. I am sure you will agree I would love to meet my tutor now and tell her the job is possible!

I have always enjoyed sports and taking part in many clubs in my personal time. However, Judo was always the sport that was my favourite. I have done it since I was four years old and have travelled to many places representing my country. My proudest moment had to be in 2015 when I took part in the World Championships and took a Bronze and in the Europeans taking Silver. The school supported me in my dream and even made me a Judo themed Christopher Carrot!

I started my teaching career in a mainstream school and taught PE and Science until I saw a position at Columbus. I applied for the job and was lucky enough to be offered the role. Since working at Columbus I have had many wonderful experiences working with the students and watching them grow into strong minded and independent young people. I have supported 15 educational visits in my time to a number of destinations - Sailing, Wales, Mersea, Bradwell, Southampton, Tenerife, and Portugal. I think these are an excellent way for students to gain confidence, build independence and prepare for the next stages of their life and I always enjoy supporting the students on these visits.

I was a member of the Physical Development team from 2009 - 2015 and in this time I was also the Head of Learning for two years. In 2012 we were lucky enough to take a group of students to the London 2012 Games and watched football, athletics and basketball. It really was lovely to give the students this opportunity. In 2014 the PD Department was nominated for the Active Essex School of the Year award and we were extremely proud to have won this and be the first ever Special School to win too! Everyone involved found the awards ceremony very rewarding.

In my spare time and during school holidays I was an active member of the Discovery Club and ran the scheme as a play worker until 2014.

Then in 2015 I moved across to the FE Department where I am now a Head of Learning. I really enjoy this role and have already learnt so many more things since taking on this role. I have lots of new ideas that I look forward to building into the College curriculum for the students and have a real passion for ensuring the students have the best future possible for them, leading a life as independently as they can.

Over my time at Columbus I have taken part in a number of events to raise money for the school; the Nike London Half Marathon in 2010, the Southend Half Marathon in 2015 and a 10km Nuclear Muddy Races event in 2016. I enjoy a challenge and trying new things - in July I am taking part in a 5km inflatable race along with 12 other staff from Columbus and in May I have entered a 12km Nuclear Muddy Race again.

I would like to thank the students and staff at Columbus for giving me the opportunities I have had and providing me with the skills, knowledge and expertise to fulfil my initial dream back in college to be a PE teacher for special needs students and to progress into my current role.

Tracey Plane

Head of Learning FE

Tae Flight - CLASS 5

posted 9 May 2017, 01:36 by James Dorey   [ updated 9 May 2017, 01:39 ]


My name is Tae Flight, I am 8 years old and in Key Stage 2, Class 5.

I am a happy, lively boy who is very sociable with children and adults alike.

I like to listen to music, especially Bruno Mars, Uptown Funk and One Direction, What Makes You Beautiful. I enjoy singing and dancing in front of my friends after I finish my work. During snack times and lunch times I play on the trampoline, jumping up and down really high. I often play in the sand pit, creating sand castles to knock over with a toy car.

My favourite subject is Art. I like to be creative with my designs, choosing bright colours and extra messy resources. I work hard with my friends, helping them to make good choices.


I like to share my weekend news with my friends on a Monday morning.

I used junk modelling to create a sculpture of the BT Tower in London. I felt very proud of this.

For Chinese New Year I dressed up in traditional Chinese clothes and explored Chinese food.

Victoria Beattie Class Teacher helped me to write all about me today!

Gabriel Trotter - Class 6

posted 9 May 2017, 01:30 by James Dorey   [ updated 9 May 2017, 01:40 ]


My name is Gabriel Trotter. I am 10 years old and in Key Stage 2, Class 6.

I am a happy boy who is very sociable with my peers in Class 6.

I love to build, whether it is with Mega Bloks, Duplo, Lego or Train Tracks and I am very good at it as I have a great imagination. I also enjoy playing with toys such as the train set and cars.

I have a love for sport and take part in many lunchtime and after school clubs, including football, rugby and gym trail.

My favourite subjects are PD and Swimming. I like to work with my friends to play games.


I enjoyed making milkshakes in Food Technology, but tasting it was even more fun. Chocolate was my favourite!

I love playtime as I can use the equipment and play with my friends!

Sarah Barker Class Teacher helped me to write all about me today!


posted 24 Apr 2017, 02:53 by James Dorey

I first became a governor in around 1998 when my stepson attended our predecessor school, The Hayward. At the time Essex Country Council were proposing to cut over 1000 special school places, because they considered that all children with moderate learning difficulties would be better off educated in mainstream schools with additional support. We had seen, and rejected, the offering for MLD in various mainstream comprehensives and therefore I attended some “consultation” meetings with Essex County Council’s education professionals to make the case for continuation of this provision. The then Headteacher was also at these meetings and asked me to volunteer as a parent governor.

After my son left, I was asked to continue as an Authority Governor. This meant that I was involved through a massive and significant period of changes, including:

  • The development of an autism speciality within the Hayward including accreditation by the National Autistic Society; 
  • Starting to work more closely with the Woodlands School; 
  • As that joint working grew, the development of the Essex New Model Special School concept, which led to the two schools being “federated” with a single joint governing body and the senior leadership teams merging and assuming responsibility for both schools – now known as Chelmsford New Model Special School; 
  • Amalgamation of the two schools into one, which was named Columbus; 
  • Bidding for, and receiving, funding under the government’s “Building Schools for the Future” project, allowing us to move into our two state of the art campuses; 
  • Deciding to become an Academy, and joining the country’s largest Multi-Academy Trust – the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET). 

After a period as vice-chair, when the previous chair had to reduce his involvement due to health and family reasons, I was elected by the governors as Chair, around five years ago. As chair I communicate with the Principal several times each week, discussing issues that have arisen within Columbus – be they related to staffing matters, pupil issues, problems with the building or internal IT networks, or anything else that crops up. I am also one of the first to learn of most of the good news – whether it is achievements by our young people or successes by the fundraising team in persuading people and companies to part with their money.

I spent three years as a trustee of AET, representing the interests of all Special Schools within the group.

Professionally, I am an Internal Auditor – this is a role within a company that reviews all company activities and reports to senior management on the effectiveness of process and management of risks. I have previously worked for two multinational car manufacturers and a mobile telephone company; my current employer is a vehicle leasing company – the largest in the world with over 600,000 customers, all of whom are disabled.

I have been married 20 years, and have three adult stepsons, who between them have given us five grandchildren, one of whom lives with us and keeps me young and very busy.

My main interest outside of work, when family commitments permit, relates to model aircraft flying. I am the Treasurer of the National governing body (we are to model flying what the FA is to football), and I am heavily involved in the organisation of the annual National Championships which is believed to be the largest such event outside of the USA.

I am proud to be part of the Columbus team, and look back with pleasure at what we have achieved.

Keith Lomax
Chair of Governors

Victoria Beattie – Class Teacher

posted 22 Mar 2017, 02:39 by James Dorey

When I was a little girl I always dreamt of being a teacher, playing schools with my dolls and getting into trouble for making our family dog sit for hours in the ‘classroom’. Little did I know that one day I would fulfil my dream and real children would be (hopefully) listening to me.

It was surprising that my dream came true as when I was a little girl I was only able to hear 5 -10% through my left ear; classing me as deaf, using gestures, lip reading and shouting to understand people. So, as you can imagine, Chinese whispers at school wasn’t ideal and neither was sport as I had no balance at all. When I was seven I was able to have corrective surgery which allowed me to hear fully for the first time. With this my speech improved but sadly my balance did not so still, to this day, I fall over air!

Here I am as a teacher. I worked in a mainstream school with SEN facilities for a few years before entering the world of Special Needs teaching, which, by the way, is a totally different ball game entirely that no one fully can explain, it’s just truly amazing.

I have been at Columbus for two years at Easter and the time has flown by. I have learned, progressed and overcome many things in my time so far and hope that this continues into the future. I teach with passion, love and pure enjoyment for the children and their families, supporting them in any way possible.

Thank you Columbus for giving me the opportunities and providing me with the skills, knowledge and expertise you have so far.


posted 7 Mar 2017, 00:04 by James Dorey   [ updated 7 Mar 2017, 00:05 ]

Back in the 70’s when I was a young girl (WOW a long time ago now!!!!!!) my mum worked as a midday assistant for what was Woodlands, now Columbus. I can even remember the name of the kitchen cook. I also remember taking some of the pupils out for days to the beach; there were no minibuses and the staff transported all the pupils in their own cars. My dad has a red transit van that we used to take about six pupils with us.

I can remember being on Walton beach with pupils and staff, it was one big happy family day out.

Now here I am!!!!!! Working with the same passion and empathy for the pupils and families of Columbus that my mum felt all those years ago.

I have been at what was Woodlands (now known as Columbus) for 13 years and I still feel as passionate about my job now as I did on the first day I started.

I worked firstly as a Learning Support Assistant (LSA) gaining knowledge of all the pupils’ daily needs and education.

In 2011, I took on the role of Family support Advocate full time and now cover all key stages on both School and College Campus.

I am so proud of all the pupils across both campuses and to see them achieve their goals is truly amazing. Knowing how profoundly we collectively (as a BIG FAMILY, just like the days at Walton beach back in the 70’s) improve the lives of our pupils, students and their families to reach their aspirations and full potential is an amazing feeling.

The Columbus Advocacy team works on behalf of young people with disabilities and their families to get the needed support and services required to promote a good quality of life and to promote their wellbeing and achieve positive outcomes. Parental influences have a powerful effect upon children’s and young people’s attitudes, achievements and life outcomes.

My role of the Family Support Advocate is to support and empower families by working in partnership with families, parents, carers and outside agencies, to get the most of out the educational/social opportunities and specialist services and other agencies that are available to them.

My daily tasks often include:
  • To establish positive relationships with all pupils and families 
  • To develop and enhance parental and carer engagement with the school and other agencies 
  • To work with parents and carers to develop parenting skills and promote children’s wellbeing and emotional and social development 
  • Signpost families to the support and advice needed 
  • Signpost to the Children with Disabilities Team (CWD) team. 
  • Signpost and refer to the Short Breaks provisions 
  • Liaise with health care professionals 
  • Liaise with Benefit advisors. 
  • Liaise with Housing Associations 
  • Signpost to various charities 
  • To be a point of contact for both telephone and face-to-face enquiries from parents/carers and outside agencies 
  • Attend TAC (Team around the Child) meetings, CP (Child protection) meetings, CG (Core group) meetings, CIN (Child in Need) meetings, professionals’ meetings, medical appointments and Annual Reviews/ EHCP meetings 
  • To work collaboratively with professionals from a range of agencies supporting the child/young person and the family 
  • Opportunities to meet other families via our Parents Social events 
  • Attend the Columbus Parent Consultation Committee meetings 
  • To provide advice regarding referrals to other agencies 
  • To produce reports for reviews and meetings as required, gathering information from teaching staff as necessary 
  • To liaise with other professionals and gain any relevant information on new pupils/students 
  • To work with individuals or small groups of pupils for nurture work 
  • To support pupils’ pastoral needs including help with emotional, social, welfare, care and health matters 
  • To liaise with parents and staff regarding pupils’ pastoral concerns 
  • To meet with parents to gather up-to-date information on the parents’ views in preparation for an EHCP meeting 
  • To attend relevant training and take responsibility for my own development
Personally, I like to spend time with my family, I love going to the theatre and spending the day in London. I’m not too good at keeping fit if I’m honest - a yoga class once a week is enough for me! Oh yes, and not forgetting those family days at the beach in the summer.

Tracy Gilson

Family Support Advocate


posted 23 Feb 2017, 07:00 by James Dorey

Hello, I started working at Columbus School in September 2013 as part of the Administration Team. You can find me in the Admin Office on School Campus - in the corridor where the Staff Room is or on the Reception Desk at lunchtimes and some afternoons. My role is to prepare the paperwork for the Annual Review/EHCP process for every pupil on the School Campus. I also assist Tracy Gilson with the writing up of the EHCP Transfer Templates for the pupils at School and College. It’s a very busy job and keeps me on my toes! I am always happy to help so if you have a query please come and ask me and I will try to help you.

My background is in administration, I worked for Essex County Council from when I left school up until I had my family. I have 3 teenage boys! When the boys were little I started working for the Pre-School that they attended. I loved it and was there for 9 years. I was the SENCO and worked one to one with many children with additional needs. I worked with 2 pupils who are now attending Columbus and it’s lovely to see how happy they are every day.

Being involved with families and being involved with children led me to wanting to work at Columbus and go back to my administration background. I feel I have the best of both worlds being at Columbus. I thoroughly enjoy working at the school and have met and continue to meet such lovely, kind and dedicated people.

I like to keep fit. I have a dog called Jes who I walk early every morning before school and I also enjoy cycling. I try to cycle to work as much as I can, however you won’t find me cycling in the wind or rain.

Claire Eades

Administration Assistant

A Day in the Life of Caroline Russell – PD LSA

posted 10 Feb 2017, 01:50 by James Dorey   [ updated 10 Feb 2017, 01:50 ]

I am in my sixth year at Columbus and I am employed as a Learning Support Assistant/Teaching Instructor (I cover lessons) in the Physical Development team. Within the department I also teach two lessons a week and write Learning Progress Reports for these. This enables me to keep up to date with my teaching and keep up with family life too!

In my ‘past life,’ before children, I taught PE in two mainstream secondary schools (Cambridgeshire and Essex) and progressed to Head of PE at the latter. I was drawn back to SEN following my first work experience, aged seventeen, at a similar school to Columbus in St Albans, Herts. Furthermore I had a great time working as an FE tutor with past Columbus students at Mencap, prior to working here.

You will be able to find me at the swimming pools every afternoon for lunch time clubs, followed by afternoon PMLD swimming sessions. My day usually involves keeping very busy: hoisting, physically supporting in PMLD swims, using visuals, signing, encouraging and reinforcing teaching points, motivating to reach targets, taking photographs, playing and counting heads, setting up and tidying away equipment, recording, reporting, making resources and assisting with four after school PD and swimming clubs!

In addition to lessons and clubs, I support in other ways too: I have assisted at Residential trips to Tenerife and Bradwell, lead and assist at competitions /events e.g. Panathlon and Lord Taverner’s Boccia, assist courses run by the PD team e.g. Autism in PE for primary teacher, accompany horse riding groups to Barrow farm and I happily cover as a general class LSA - if time permits!

I thoroughly enjoy working across both campuses with children of all ages (3-19) and needs (Autism, PMLD and SLD). Having been here almost six years, it is fantastic to see so much progress and development in the long term – mobility, speech and behaviour - in so many of our young people.

The key is to be flexible in more ways than one! I love being part of the PD team and working at Columbus has been my happiest job to date!

Caroline Russell
Learning Support Assistant and Teacher Instructor for the Physical Development Team

A Day in the Life of Karen Hobbs - Admin assistant

posted 1 Feb 2017, 04:14 by James Dorey

Day to day, we spend a great deal of time celebrating the achievements and strengths of our children and young people – blogging, circulating newsletters, tweeting and “Facebooking”. Whilst this is a vital part of our work, I feel it is also just as important to acknowledge and recognise the achievements of our workforce, their drive to deliver the best for our young people and the stake they hold in our very special school. It is also useful to know more about each other and the day to day roles and responsibilities we all hold in delivering an outstanding service to the young people and their families. 

In the weeks and months ahead, we will be compiling a “who’s who” of our team, learning more about who they are, what they do each day at Columbus and thanking and valuing them in their contributions to Columbus.

Our first “A Day in the Life Of…” is Karen Hobbs, Administration Assistant. Karen joined the team in November 2012 and very quickly showed her abilities and commitments to Columbus. Karen is always a bright, friendly face who is ever willing to go that extra mile. I will never forget our Ofsted inspection of 2014 when, the night before the inspectors were due to arrive, all the teachers and the Senior Leadership Team were working late, feeling anxious and nervous about what might lie ahead.

Karen, who had actually gone home for the day, returned later in the evening saying “I couldn’t stay at home knowing you were all still here! Is there anything I can do to help you to get ready for the inspectors arrival tomorrow?!” What kindness!

In addition to being a secret chicken keeper and keen gardener, Karen also has hidden talents in ICT – if you ever need help to create a whizzy display or a computer based diagram – Karen’s your girl!

Read on for Karen’s message.

Next time – a valued colleague from the teaching team!

Ginny Bellard

Almost 10 years ago, weeks before I found out I was pregnant with identical twins, I had a change of heart.  Almost overnight I felt drawn to help the wider community rather than working in the corporate world; perhaps it was my maternal instinct kicking in.  I started volunteering in local schools to ensure this was the place for me and when a position became available at Columbus, it was almost too good to be true.  I have worked here for over four years and have never looked back.   

I enjoy working at Columbus because no day is ever the same, my role as a cross-campus Administration Assistant is highly varied and never boring.  My daily tasks often include:

Supporting the Principal and the Principal’s PA
Arranging meetings
Pupil filing
Staff interview administration
Passing messages to classes 
Producing documents/forms/letters and some of the visual work seen around Columbus 
such as the Good News Board/Staff Photo Board/calendars/menus/etc. 
Covering Receptions when necessary on both campuses
Support with administering the Admissions process i.e. taking initial phone calls from 
prospective parents, arranging visits, compiling Welcome Packs
Printing Annual Reports and arranging for them to be bound 
Staff photographs
Making refreshments for visitors
Taking documents/items between campuses including the midday cross-campus post run
Attending  certain meetings in order to broaden my knowledge about the running of 
Supporting with the Annual Review process
Branding - ensuring that everything sent out to the parents/carers and the wider community 
is of the highest standard.

I enjoy working at Columbus because no day is ever the same, my role as a cross campus Admin Assistant is so varied and never boring.  I feel proud to work in such amazing facilities for our pupils and students, it is so spacious and well-equipped compared to other schools I have been in.    Whilst analysing the Pupil Questionnaires and the Parent/Carer Questionnaires, it is satisfying to see just how profoundly we collectively (as staff at Columbus) improve the lives of our pupils, students and their families.    

Personally, I try my best to keep active, cycling to school and practicing Yoga.  Gardening is my passion. I get out there whenever I can.  I keep 5 chickens, one of which is named after a pupil at Columbus; I couldn’t resist - it is such a beautiful name!

Karen Hobbs
Administration Assistant

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