My background in education and schools began in 1973 as a supply teacher in a large (1700 pupils) south London boys school, continuing there as a classroom teacher after taking a PGCE course and later acquiring a whole-school role for the development of a pastoral curriculum. In my first five classroom years I also did voluntary youth work at a south London settlement. Both experiences were formative in the development of my skills, knowledge, understanding and learning, and were important learning environments for me. I continued as a classroom teacher until 1992, when I became an advisory teacher – for Health Education – in Lambeth, the London district I had worked in since 1973.

My formal learning was shaped and informed by my first degree in social sciences. My ‘education’ – turning learning into understanding – came from working as a practitioner with young people and in schools. The theory and reality of alienation, deviance, social stratification, class, race, and social and emotional needs have been a constant part of my personal and professional lives and identity. I still live in the same part of London that I first taught in, which has meant that I continue to benefit from contact with former pupils, giving me invaluable insights into some of the things that ‘work’ in class-rooms and schools. What ‘works’ in my experience, both at the time and with assisted hind-sight, is ethos, atmosphere and relationships: these are the foci of the comments I hear from former pupils twenty and thirty years on.

I acknowledge the further development of the skills I possess and value which I was able to learn, practise and extend with the Inner London Education Authority’s Health Education Team; and as an advisory teacher. I continue to find that my work then and since has largely been an exchange, not an imposition, of ideas and experience – a dialogue – with the individuals and agencies I have worked with. The additional experience, colleagues and clientele I have acquired since becoming self-employed have added to my pool of understanding and knowledge; and have provided generous opportunities to reflect on my practice and the fields I work in, not to mention some life-long friendships.

Time for reflection is an aspect of professionalism which my contacts with colleagues and friends in the public sector increasingly indicate is missing from their work because of the demands of their in-trays and funding applications. I recall the comment made by a deputy headteacher at the last school I worked in as a class-room teacher: “The immediate takes over from the important.” It’s as true now as it was then – in the last century…

I continue to develop my understanding of contexts, links and relationships through writing. I use writing as one way of reflecting on my practice: previously I have done so through course attendance, with the Certificate in Health Education and Masters courses being major opportunities to reflect on my practice and principles; to extend my knowledge and awareness; and to avoid the complacency of habit and assumption. A paper I wrote comparing sex education and drug education was not accepted at peer-review stage by the journal to which it had been submitted, but the additional reading it required and the resultant questioning of assumptions (mine) was invaluable, and helped me to gain a greater understanding of the wider contexts in which my specialism of prevention operates.