IN the year 2000, as the new millennium began, Gary Smith, the headteacher of Market Field School, wrote a vision document.

It has been his ambition to achieve it by 2020 and he thought with a bit of luck, he may just do that.

But everyone who knows Mr Smith will understand his achievements are not down to luck - they are down to his dedication, persistence and pure stubbornness for ensuring there is a good life after education.

Mr Smith has been at the school for children with moderate learning difficulties since 1989 and he has always made it his mission to provide equal opportunities for his students.

Clacton and Frinton Gazette:

When the Government changed the compulsory age to leave education from 16 to 18 in 2015, it left some students at the school in Elmstead Market with nowhere to go.

So Mr Smith used the situation as a springboard for opening up a new sixth form college at a school site in Jaywick.

The establishment of the sixth form in the former Bishops Park College is the outcome of that ambition first mooted in 1999.

“I had been thinking the Government was making a bad situation worse,” he said, “but it gave us the ability to do something we had always wanted.

“It was bitter sweet, a blessing in disguise.”

Due to a demand for places in the main school he had to think outside the box.

Mr Smith said 20 students a year will go to the college which will also give vocational training to some younger students from the school.

Market Field moved into its £10 million building in School Road last year after years of lobbying for a bigger and better school.

The new building has space for 200 students but there are already 235 on the school role and that number is rising.

Mr Smith said the new facility will help alleviate these numbers, as well as provide familiarity for those students with more severe additional needs.

Some students had moved on to Colchester Institute or Lexden Springs, a school for children with more severe learning difficulties, but it was not the same learning environment.

“Children with additional needs do find it more challenging,” he said.

“They are judged as not being in line with their peers.

“There are some battles there and some people still need the closeness of a special school college.

“I think some people’s attitudes in mainstream education colleges need shifting to an extent.

“We have got to know when we are beat and do something differently, and that’s what we are doing.”

The children now turn up to the new sixth form every day, they are enthusiastic and they are happy but that is not enough.

What happens when they leave education? And how can all the effort and dedication provided by staff at school be used for life?

Market Field School has consistently been rated as outstanding by Ofsted but all the good work cannot then go to waste when school ends.

As such, Mr Smith is now focussing his efforts on finding students employment.

Clacton and Frinton Gazette:

He said: “We are aiming to work with the business community as an outstanding Ofsted report isn’t enough.

“What’s the point in education that doesn’t lead anywhere?

“We are just childminding and that isn’t good enough.”

He is encouraging employers to come forward and explain what skills they want to see, so these can be incorporated into the college programmes in health and social care, catering, engineering and ICT.

Claire Skeggs, careers and work experience co-ordinator at the school, said the students have already had opportunities with Waitrose, primary schools and the world famous Beth Chatto Gardens.

She said: “This year’s work experience plan was really successful and we want to make it an ongoing programme.

“There is a gap between what the students can do and what is actually out there, they really need something. It’s a waste of their talent.

“The work experience is so brilliant as they are confident there is a world outside of Market Field and it’s not as scary as they thought.”

For Mr Smith and his staff, there is always a Plan B.

He is already making inquiries to speak to ethical banks about setting up a catering franchise where students will work.

There is even talks of a hotel.

He has taught his students many life skills over the years but perhaps most important is that of not letting anything, big or small, stop them from achieving and having fulfilling live