We met with a Catriona Maclay recently, Founder of the Hackney Pirates, to ask her more about what it means for a child to be emotionally, physically, and intellectually ready for school. She used to be a teacher and set up the Hackney Pirates as a way of reaching young people who were finding the transition into secondary education specifically challenging.
This is what she said:

Take creativity seriously
“kids at risk of failing at school are often just not engaged in education”
We often hear this rhetoric from people invested in the education of young people. There is great debate about the role of creativity in teaching young people how to learn. As a pose to teaching people what to learn. Creativity, according to Catriona should be treated as a core ingredient in the way we investigate, learn, and analyse information from a young age, so why is it so departmentalised once we reach formal education? Why is it seen as a ‘nice to have’ rather than an integral principle? Catriona uses creativity and imaginative play as a hook to engaging young people in learning, socialising and experimenting. When asked about the relationship between this and the under fives: “children under five have an innate creativity in the ay they look at the world because it is a necessary way to learn and make sense of things. How can we not loss this over time?”.

Target the young people who need it
There is a lot of debate in service innovation and design around the value of targeted and universal solutions. SureStart Centres have been through this very recently after being created as a universal service, and later encouraged to be much more focussed on the families that need the additional free support. I belief very strongly in services based on aspiration, not dependency, so we asked Catriona about her option on the targeted nature of her work: “We set up Hackney Pirates as a way of reaching the young people who needed extra support, the common factors within the group are a lack of engagement with education and struggling with the pressures of changing schools. This method of targeting has not alienated or stigmatised the young people, they have been chosen as people with untapped potential, and because of that we have a very mixed and energetic group. There is a real social and economic mix, a mix of cultures and backgrounds, and a mix in the types of parenting… we don’t want to let it become all about ‘need’ but we don’t want to fill the spaces with kids that do not require the support.”

Challenge authority and promote togetherness
When asked to reflect on her experiences as a teacher, Catriona talked about the issues in authority and separation between adults and young people.
“We set up opposing forces in schools, there are the students and there are the adults, they are battling against each other, there is a huge wall between them and there is no shared experiences or shared learning, or shared vision… At the Hackney Pirates, everyone is a pirate, so everyone is equal”

Don’t underestimate the influence of transition
There are many moments of transition in a young persons life and these can all result in trajectories that impact life in the longer term. We can probably all remember the moment we started school, left school, lost a grandparent, moved house. All having am impact on our emotional wellbeing. If there is little or nothing to understand this transition and support it in the best way, are we leaving young people exposed to a lifetime of affected behaviour?
Some interesting research done in Australian about the impacts of transition into school for young children.

The only method needed is one-to-one attention
Very simple, but very important, Catriona sees one-to-one attention as the key method in creating positive change in young people’s lives. They need your time, your attention, your understanding, you eye contact and your human compassion. “It does not need to be the same person all the time, but it needs to be a person who cares about you and will notice if you are needing a little extra support”