May 2019 / Blog

Growing up surrounded by children, Ellie Curtis, 20, always knew she wanted to pursue a career working with children but felt lost in mainstream education and was left unsupported with her own learning needs. Now thanks to her Apprenticeship with ACT, Ellie is re-engaged in learning and thriving in a management role at Little Tigers nursery in Rogiet.

“I struggled in school and wasn’t given a diagnosis for my learning needs, as the school I attended weren’t willing to have me tested. My mum ended up paying for me to have the test done privately.  Once I’d been officially diagnosed I found I really enjoyed being around children with similar needs and realised it was what I wanted to do as a profession.”

Ellie knew she would benefit from gaining more hands-on knowledge, so following the suggestion of her college tutor, researched ACT and their childcare courses. Ellie discovered that she could not only work to gather the experience she wanted in a nursery setting, but she could also gain the qualification she wanted at the same time.

Ellie Curtis playing with three children in Little Tigers Nursery

Unfortunately, Ellie faced many hurdles in her search to find a nursery and was openly discriminated against due to her additional learning needs: Autism, Dyslexia and Irlen Syndrome. After being turned down from various other settings, Ellie found a placement with Little Tigers. Rated ‘Good’ by Estyn, the nursery based in Rogiet, has been working with ACT for over 4 years and offers a variety of services including two settings, a wrap-around service and an after-school and holiday club. Ellie began her Level 3 CCLD qualification and found working on the job suited her learning style much more than being in the traditional classroom environment: 

“What I love most about working with ACT is that I am actually based in a setting learning. Not removed and just sat in a classroom writing. I prefer being hands on much more and actually being with the children.”

Ellie thrived in this setting, and on completing her Level 3 Children’s Care, Learning and Development (CCLD) qualification ahead of time, began discussing further learning options with Little Tigers and ACT. Deciding she wanted to work with older children, Ellie was then encouraged to enrol on a Level 3 Playwork Apprenticeship. Although she initially found aspects of the course challenging, Ellie thoroughly enjoyed the practical work and with regular visits from her assessor felt hugely supported.

“My assessor is so encouraging and gives positive feedback on how well I am progressing, which has really helped me. She always gives constructive feedback and reminds me of all the brilliant things that I’ve done and learnt. She really understands my blocks to learning and it’s so nice to have that one-on-one support, which I respond really well to, rather than having to compete with 30 other people in the classroom.”

With ACT, Ellie was also able to undertake the Essential Skills Wales Maths and English qualifications as part of her coursework. Having always struggled with maths at school Ellie passed her exams on her first sitting and feels the support ACT have given her as played an enormous part in her success.

“I really don’t think I’d have done as well as I have if ACT hadn’t been so open-minded. My assessor totally understands that not one size fits all when it comes to teaching. I wouldn’t have finished any of my courses as quickly as I have if that approach hadn’t been taken and I’m very lucky that I work in a setting that supports that ethos too.”

Ellie has worked so hard to overcome her barriers to learning and in 2017 was successfully awarded ‘Apprentice of the Year’ at the Monmouthshire Business Awards. An incredibly proud moment for both herself and Little Tigers:

“A lot of my old school teachers congratulated me and it was interesting because without ACT I probably wouldn’t have gotten where I am now and been in a position to win an award.”

Having always hated learning because she felt she had no support, Ellie has officially caught the learning bug. Through ACT and the support from her Assessor, Ellie has discovered that her literacy abilities have improved enormously. Having previously had negative associations with reading, Ellie proudly finished reading her very first book last year:

“That was such an achievement for me because I’d never been able to read or finish a book before because I just couldn’t do it. Now through the studying I had to do for the coursework my levels and abilities have improved a lot and so has my confidence.” 

Ellie continues to excel and take on new responsibilities in her setting, and having now been promoted to a Deputy Manager position, is undertaking her Level 5 CCLD qualification. She is also the Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Coordinator for the Little Tigers setting and regularly undertakes IDPs (Interaction with Disabled Person’s Scales) and meetings with professionals to support the children. Ellie feels her qualifications and experience on the job have played an enormous part in her progression to a senior management position:

“The more courses and levels you do, the more in-depth you go into the knowledge of the job and subject area. I know so much more now and feel confident in my understanding. Without the knowledge from the course and gaining the hands-on experience of working with the children, I wouldn’t be able to do the job I’m doing now.”

As well as taking on new responsibilities, Ellie is unstoppable and is already considering which course she will enrol onto next once she’s completed her CCLD Level 5 qualification.

“I’m potentially thinking of doing a university course, something I would never ever have considered before. In my setting I work and specialise with children with additional needs so I think I’d like to study something along those lines. Now I’ve got my Essential Skills qualifications, as well as the courses I’ve successfully completed with ACT, they are recognised points which can count towards entry to a university course. I’m also keen to boost my qualifications and do another course with ACT too.”

Ellie is proof that with the right support, anyone can overcome their barriers to learning and achieve their potential. Commenting on her extraordinary learner journey, Ellie comments:

“Anyone can achieve their potential, if they’re given the right support.  I recommend ACT to people all the time as without them I probably wouldn’t have gotten where I am now.”