Alumni share their career insights within Education

Blog from Bristol Alumni Digital Events Bristol Connects

On Tues 26 Jan 2021, our alumni volunteers shared their career stories with students and recent graduates. The event was part of our Bristol Connects Live series- our online series of career and professional development events. The session focused on careers within Education and our alumni experts shared their career stories and experiences to inspire students and recent graduates to help them understand more about the sector.

The event was hosted by Shanice Swales (BA 2014) who works as a Senior Policy Advisor in Higher Education Access and Admissions at The Department for Education. Shanice was joined on the panel by Abbigael Bainton (PGCE 2014/MSc 2018), Assistant Principal at the the Cabot Learning Federation. Mark Barrow (BSc 1995), Chief Executive Officer at the Seckford Education Trust and Dr Nigel Newton (PhD 2016), Lecturer, Education Consultant and Writer.

Thoughts from the panel

The panel noted that it is important that all children, regardless of their background, should be entitled to an education. Shanice first got experience as a teaching assistant, which she felt gave her a good insight into a school setting, without too much initial responsibility. She mentioned it is useful to work out if you want to work in a school environment, as there are plenty of other non-teaching roles in education, such as behavioural support and managerial roles. There are also educational organisations such as: Ofsted, NUS, Student Office, Think-Tanks and Charities. Abbigael agreed and further commented that there are so many graduate teaching opportunities, such as tutoring or pastoral care- “you don’t have to commit to purely teaching”.

panellists at the Bristol Connects event
Bristol Connects panellists: Shanice Swales (BA 2014) , Abbigael Bainton (PGCE 2014/MSc 2018), Mark Barrow (BSc 1995), and Dr Nigel Newton (PhD 2016)

What makes a good teacher?

The panel agreed there are a few things they felt make a good teacher, these included the importance of caring for your students in a professional manner. Nigel informed us of how research shows good subject knowledge is key to being a good teacher and how you need to be willing to carry on learning yourself. Mark added ” Be enthusiastic. Be passionate. Be organised. It’s hard work to begin with but keep at it. Show students that you care. Constantly modelling success without misleading students. Make sure you align to the schools values”. Abbigael completely agreed with Mark and echoed the development of professional relationships and that building trust with your students is key. “Be human! Be yourself… It’s so rewarding!”.

When asked what qualities do you look for in a school leadership position Mark said to “Never lose sight of what quality teaching is like. It is important to have experience of change management, a good understanding of the curriculum and the basics of leadership”. He asked “What are you driven by? and “How would you manage change through others?”.

The importance of volunteering

Our panellists stated the importance of volunteering. Shanice reflected on her volunteering experience during University as an Education Outreach Fellow- ” a few hours a week looks great on your CV and it made it easier to apply to teaching assistant positions”. Mark supported this by saying- ” We look for participation in volunteering programmes when hiring teachers, volunteering experiences gives you a sense of what a school is going to look like and if it is the right environment for you”.

With regards to landing a job in the Civil Service, Shanice mentioned the Civil Service Fast Stream programme is not the only way to get into the Civil Service. She suggested looking at entry level jobs- “It’s such a good way to get your foot in the door”. Abbigael encouraged those who were interested in working in schools to look for opportunities, adding -” there are lots of opportunities right now and there is no harm in writing to schools, there seems to be capacity for more pastoral roles right now”.

Bristol Connects

Bristol Connects is also a great way to grow and establish your network. Bristol Connects is an exclusive online platform for Bristol alumni and students. Activate your account and take advantage of the Career Expert module and make connections with alumni working in your industry.

All alumni who helped out at the event are volunteers on our Bristol Volunteers programme. If you are experienced in speaking publicly and are willing to share your industry insights or ways of working, then we would love to welcome you as a panellist or event host. Please contact the Bristol Volunteers team at

To view a recording of this event, go the Careers and employability web page on the School of Education website:

This article was originally published on the Alumni Blog