Karleen Thomson, nursery nurse and UNISON health and safety rep
"I trained as a nursery nurse and did work at first in nurseries, in other schools. I first came to Cleves with an agency, but after two terms they decided to take me long-term.
"There is a different set-up in this school, because of the special needs children, and when I came here I started working throughout the whole school, with all age groups, but just with the special needs kids. It was big difference for me, but I adapted. And now I‘ve been here 10 years.
"When I started here, the school spoke to me about their needs, and about me working alongside other experienced staff.
"They sent me on courses about special needs. Some of our kids have a lot of medical needs.
"It’s a very rewarding job, teaching them how to read, write, spell their name, this feeling that you can actually help these children achieve their learning goals. It takes some time with some of them, but we get there in the end. You have to adapt to their learning style, give them the skills they need to communicate in school and make sure they join in with other kids.
"The children really enjoy their learning here. It's fun, stimulating. And I think the inclusion is really good for the mainstream kids too, because it helps them learn to deal with difference.
"The simplest things give me pleasure, like facial expressions – one girl has just started smiling and laughing, due to her coming to school every day, which was so lovely. And I really enjoy the way that everyone works as a team, all supporting one another."
As an active UNISON member, Karleen has also been involved with pay and conditions faced by support staff.
"When I became permanent with Newham, we were not getting paid a special needs allowance. I went to UNISON and we fought for all the nursery nurses to get it. And it makes a big difference.
"People from the local authority should go around the schools and see how hard teachers and teaching assistants and nursery nurses actually work, instead of just looking at exam statistics.
"But the head teacher really appreciates how much we do with the kids. And we get visitors from other countries, we had some from Germany a while ago, because our school is a model for this kind of inclusion of special needs children. And the ethos at the heart of that starts with the staff."