TEENAGERS, as a stereotype, suffer terrible angst and challenges as they make the transition from child to adulthood.

But Gill Jackson’s students have even greater obstacles.

They suffer from mental health problems making her role as head of the St Aubyn centre even more difficult.

However, sometimes, the rewards are even greater. Over decades, she has not only shaped lives, she has saved them.

If there is one thing children need, it is an adult they can trust, and never more so than when they are struggling with mental health problems.

That person, for many youngsters, was Gill Jackson.

Gill is retiring after a lifetime in education which has been both challenging and rewarding.

Her teaching career began in Colchester in 1979 at Wilson Marriage School before she became a supply teacher at the Longview Adolescent Unit in 1990.

That unit, which was replaced by the St Aubyn Centre, supports teenagers with mental health conditions.

In her early days at the unit, Gill ran a weekly a craft session and later taught English.


She had short spells working in other schools but returned as a key teacher when the opportunity arose.

Gill, from Bures, said: “I had found my niche and I threw myself wholeheartedly into the work. As a key teacher you have the privilege of getting to know young people well and it is humbling to be trusted and allowed into their emotional lives.

“The young people we work with have suffered and are still suffering. They often need adults to provide safe containment because this has been lacking in their lives and reaching a point of mutual respect is important.”

She studied for a Master’s degree in therapeutic counselling and worked as both a teacher and therapist at Longview. She took on the role of head of education in 2003.

The St Aubyn Centre in Turner Road, Colchester, opened in 2012, replacing the Longview unit.

Each young person at the centre has an individual education plan which includes therapeutic and academic sessions.

The therapeutic sessions include cooking, art and music and physical activity is also important for mental health.

Essex County Council was supportive of the new provision and Gill had the task of recruiting to a team more than double the size of that at Longview.

She said: “I relished this and still remember vividly the day when members of the team, who have now worked at the centre for seven years, walked through the door to express an interest in being part of what was being set up.

“The education team is brilliant. I have really enjoyed being the head of such an amazing bunch of dedicated people.

“We get thank you letters from lots of youngsters when they leave hospital. It gives great pleasure when we receive updates from young people letting us know how they are and they are leading happier lives.”

Gill’s team is first class with Ofsted inspectors giving the school an outstanding rating.

She said: “In 2014 when the first outstanding judgement was made, one of the factors was the Mental Health Functioning in Education grid and rating scale I had introduced to show progress when working with young people who are recovering from a crisis in their mental health.

“A major achievement for me has been the development of a school information management system. I put in a bid to gain funding for the building of the computer-based system to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

“The bid was successful and the Quality Network for Inpatient Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, otherwise known as QNIC, was born.”

Her networking system is now used in units across the country.

Gill said: “I’m really interested in what makes people tick and, in this line of work, what has made life difficult and how the young person can build themselves up to manage life’s adversities more successfully.

“All the young people admitted to hospital should have the best educational opportunities we can provide in this setting. They deserve the best we can offer them in terms of care, understanding and containment.”

Gill added: “The best part is when young people come back to see us and they are happier and healthier than they were when they were with us.

“The worst is when a young person we have worked with dies. That’s the reality of working in this field,” she said.

Now Gill is retiring from the St Aubyn Centre and after 40 years in education.

But her lifelong commitment to helping youngsters in need will continue. She said: “I’ve still got lots of energy to do other things. I will continue with my role as education member on the QNIC advisory group and will visit units in other parts of the country.”