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Getting to know Mike Doherty



Name:

Mike Doherty

MA, MEd, Adv. Dip Ed and Cert Ed

Principal, Link School


Place of Birth:

UK


Year of Arrival in Hong Kong:

1975



What brought you to Hong Kong?


I had been teaching in England and the girl I was going out with decided to dump me! So, I wanted to get away from it all and teach overseas. I applied for a position as a teacher in the Army schools (Service Children Education Authority, SCEA).


At the interview, in London, the panel consisting of a colonel, a major and the principal of one of their schools asked me if I was offered a posting where would I want to go, e.g. Malta. Cyprus, Germany etc. Without any thought about it, I immediately replied Hong Kong. When asked why, I said Hong Kong is as far away from England as you can get! Fortunately, the three of them burst out laughing and I was offered a job in Hong Kong.



How did you get involved with the special needs community?


I was offered a standard three-year contract by SCEA and after a year of teaching a class of eight-year-olds, I was given the opportunity to support children who were struggling with their learning. I was a bit surprised to find that I enjoyed working with this group of boys and girls. When the contract ended, I returned to the UK and attended a diploma course on children with special educational needs at the Cambridge Institute of Education and then obtained a master's degree at the University of East Anglia.


In 1980, I was working with teenagers at a Vietnamese Refugee Centre in Ipswich, managed by Save the Children. I did this for one year and then I taught in a primary school supporting children with learning difficulties.



How did you make your way back to Hong Kong?


In 1982, I came back to Hong Kong to work for the English Schools Foundation ("ESF"). I was recruited to be the Head of the Special Unit, as it was called in those days, at South Island School. This title changed to become Head of Learning Support. Later, I applied for the position of Head of the Jockey Club Sarah Roe Centre.


We started off with six pupils and once the provision was established, it was inevitable that more parents would apply to have their child enrolled. The Centre became the Jockey Club Sarah Roe School and a purpose-built special school was established. The range of children with more severe learning difficulties meant that it had a number of facilities that made it unique in Hong Kong. The school was supposed to be for a maximum of 40 pupils aged 5 -19 but by the time I retired from the ESF, there were 60 pupils on roll and there was a waiting list.



How are you currently involved with the special needs community in Hong Kong?


After leaving the ESF, I was offered a job at a small school in Sai Ying Pun and this eventually became Family Partners School. The plan was to set it up and stay for two years but I ended up being there for eight years altogether. When it finally closed in 2020 I became involved with establishing and managing the Link School.

I am currently the principal of Link School.



Please provide us with some information about the school.


Link School was set up two years ago following the closure of Family Partners School. The teachers are qualified and experienced in working with children who have learning difficulties. We offer the pupils a broad and balanced curriculum and use the framework of the National Curriculum to help us with this task. The maximum number of pupils we can accommodate is 21 and at the start of the academic year 2022 -23 we have 8 pupils.



Who is eligible to apply?


The school admits children who have learning difficulties and who need a more personalised approach to help them with their learning.



Are you able to accommodate different types of special needs?


Yes, the children who attend Link School would find a mainstream school very challenging.



What advice can you offer parents in their search for the right school for their child with special needs?


The availability of places in schools is a serious issue for many parents in Hong Kong. I would suggest that parents visit various schools, pay close attention to the way the teachers address the pupils, and observe how the pupils interact with the teacher and the other pupils. It is also important to find out about the teacher-pupil ratio, whether the teachers are registered with the EDB and have completed additional qualifications in SEN and how the school encourages the pupils in the classroom.


There is no harm in asking how much access children with SEN have to the various facilities in the school. A big part of any initial visit is to get a sense of the ethos of the school as that will impact the child. The school should be welcoming and identify the welfare and education of its pupils as its top priority.



How has education support for students with special needs evolved in the past 10 years and in what ways is it getting better?


There has been improvement overall in the provision for children who learn at a different rate to others and there is a greater awareness now of the need to adapt the curriculum content to help the child be a part of the class. Teachers are more willing now to have children with special educational needs in their classroom.


Individual schools have established policies on how to accommodate these pupils and teachers have a wider range of professional development opportunities to help them adjust their planning and delivery of lessons. There are still some schools that have quite demanding entry requirements and this can prove to be an obstacle but the overall climate in schools is more positive and accepting.



What have been some of the rewards and challenges of working with children with special needs?


There have been a few challenges over the years for example, in encouraging teachers to allow children with more serious SEN into their classroom or convincing schools that it is to their benefit to enable their pupils to mix with others who have learning difficulties because it gives a more accurate picture of society and makes for a more tolerant approach. Other challenges include recruiting suitable staff and prioritising spending for specialised equipment and resources when the budget is limited, to name a few. The reward for me, and I think for most teachers who are involved with children who have special needs, is the satisfaction of recognising that their efforts and contribution have helped these children make progress over some aspect of their learning.

Where can parents find more information about Link School and how to apply? Link school has a website: www.linkschool.hk

Parents can contact me by email: mdoherty@linkschool.hk


Disclaimer: This content is for your information only and is not a substitute for medical and/or other professional advice, examination, or treatment. The views expressed are those of the individuals profiled and do not necessarily reflect the views of Transformative Movement Limited. Transformative Movement Limited makes no warranties or guarantees regarding any outcome, result, or improvement based on any method, programme or treatment mentioned. If you have any concerns regarding your/your child's particular condition, please consult a doctor. The inclusion of any links to other websites is for general information purposes only and does not imply a recommendation or endorsement of the views expressed within them by Transformative Movement Limited. Transformative Movement Limited has no control over the nature, content, accuracy, or availability of the information contained in those websites.


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