KELLY Ferguson had always dreamed of working with children and took the first steps via the government-run Youth Training Scheme when she was just 16.

However, after a three-month placement at a Sunderland primary school, Kelly landed a permanent job and a steady pay packet at the local Post Office and temporarily put her teaching aspirations on hold.

The 41-year-old, from Sunderland, progressed to the position of branch manager over the years, but Kelly never let go of her desire to work with children.

So when her son started school in 2006, she leapt at the chance to take up a voluntary role as a classroom assistant in a bid to gain some more hands-on experience.

I’ve always wanted to work with children, ever since I would play schools when I was a child.

Kelly volunteered as a parent helper for eight years before she was offered voluntary redundancy by the Post Office in 2014, which presented her with the perfect opportunity to make a career change.

“I thought, if I don’t do it now, I never will,” she says. “So at the start of 2015 I enrolled on a Level 2 Teaching Assistant course and went to college a couple of days a week.

I was doing bits of supply work at the same time and still volunteering at the school my son went to. I’d rather work for nothing than do something I don’t enjoy.

Kelly then went onto do a Level 3 Supporting Teaching and learning course whilst still volunteering at the same school her son went to and she went to as a child.

With a qualification under her belt, Kelly then began looking for permanent teaching assistant jobs. And, in November 2016, her wish finally came true as Kelly secured a job at the North East Autism Society’s Thornhill Park School, which relocated to a new site in the Plains Farm area of Sunderland earlier this year.

Things initially got off to a rocky start for Kelly, though, as her dad took ill and was rushed into hospital just days before she started work. 

“I told him on the Friday that I was starting work, but he took quite bad over the weekend so I stayed with him at the Freeman Hospital until the early hours of Monday morning,” Kelly adds.

“I didn’t want to leave him but my mum said he’d want me to go to work.”

Kelly’s father sadly passed away that morning, but she credits former Head Teacher Christine Cave with supporting her through the difficult time and helping her to settle into her new role at the school.

Within her first two years at Thornhill Park School Kelly progressed to the role of Level 4 Teaching Assistant, which saw her take on increased responsibilities such as delivering lessons for the first time.

Then, in January 2021, she secured yet another promotion to the role of Development Teacher, after NEAS contributed towards the cost of her Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training.

“I love my job,” Kelly adds. “There is never a day where I don’t want to come to work – I feel so passionately about what we do here.

It is completely different to mainstream schooling though, so if you come from that background, it can take time to readjust to the difference in teaching and supporting pupils.

Asked what her advice would be to anyone who might be considering a career with the North East Autism Society, Kelly says: “It’s not a job for everyone but seeing the difference you can make to the lives of the children and their families makes it so worthwhile.

“The main thing is just that you are here to get the very best out of those pupils and that you give the job time,” she adds: “It is hard work but it’s really, really rewarding. The support is there if you need it, and the bad days are 100 per cent outnumbered by the good days.”

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