Together We Transform: Emma Luff - Shears Academy

Emma teaches at the Shears Hairdressing Academy in Catford, an independent training provider for school leavers all the way through to career changers.

The Shears Academy team also collaborates with local schools to provide more specialist training provision for students with learning difficulties, mental health problems and challenging behaviours.

Emma talks passionately about the power of vocational qualifications and her belief that successful partnership working with other education providers really can transform the lives of students.

Emma, Shears Academy

My journey into teaching

I loved the creativity and flexibility of hairdressing, but I had no confidence in my abilities. My amazing college teacher Midge challenged me to go beyond what I thought I was capable of. Her unwavering belief in me made me realise that I was good enough. She inspired me to want to teach.

I’ve been at Shears for 13 years now and I love what I do.

We’re a small but mighty team of 5 offering apprenticeships in hairdressing, barbering, vocational training for 14–16-year-olds and after school taster days. We are teachers primarily, but we work so closely with the students that we also become their coaches, mentors, and counsellors.

Alongside the hairdressing we also provide Maths and English classes. Whatever ability and age our learners are, we’re that ‘wraparound’ support, helping our students to grow in confidence, continue their studies and complete their exams, whilst exploring a career in hairdressing at Shears.

We work as a team, teaching across the range of classes we offer, which is a brilliant way of sharing ideas and providing perspective to our colleagues on how we might tackle a specific challenge.

I appreciate this model of teaching isn’t always possible in other settings, but it is an amazing approach, and it really benefits both us and our students who love the variety.

Inspirational students

Regardless of background, ability or age, there is a common theme amongst our learners – a lack of confidence.

One of our students, Elizabeth*, was set on becoming a hairdresser and had spent months approaching different colleges and salons, only to be told that her needs were too high, and effectively she was ‘unemployable’.

When our fantastic Recruitment Officer Sue heard about Elizabeth, she was determined to meet her. In her capacity as Safeguarding Officer, Learner Voice and Functional Skills Tutor, Sue had supported many students to adapt and achieve over the years, and it was with this in mind that we invited her to a welcome interview.

Despite the challenges and barriers that she has had to overcome and her initial doubts about not being good enough, Elizabeth is thriving.

She travels to the salon on her own, she’s shampooing and greeting clients, and she has developed life skills that have given her a new level of freedom and independence.  

Another one of our students was on the brink of being expelled from school and was only allowed to visit to sit her GCSEs. We agreed with the school that she could come to us twice a week if she continued to revise and take her GCSE’s. 

Shears has been the best learning environment for her. Because of the more informal setting, she feels about to talk openly about what she’s struggling with.  We’ve built that connection with her which means we can personalise her learning and support.

It’s not unusual for students to have a difficult time during their school life. But the truth is that with the right support and in the right environment, they have a bright future ahead of them. When we’re open to new ways of working, and when we collaborate as teachers across sectors, we can create new pathways for them.

Challenging the misconception

Hairdressing is an amazing industry. It’s physical, you’re connecting with people, using your problem-solving skills and you’re being creative.

I always say to my students: ‘Don’t let this circle continue. Work hard and break it. You deserve a job, a house, and a car. You can work in a salon or on a cruise ship, you can enter awards and you can teach. Despite what you’ve been told about yourself, the world is yours for the taking, so go get it.

*Names have been substituted to provide student confidentiality.

Find out more

Find out more about our Together we transform initiative, and view other case studies, highlighting the transformative impact that the further education and skills sector has on lives across the UK.