Hayley’s deafness rules out a career as an RAF chef

It’s time to start thinking seriously about future options for Hayley and already plans have been upended, so now an alternative must be decided…

Wednesday afternoon, at a college open event

Hayley’s eyes are shining, a subtle wrestling match is taking place on her face as the corners of her mouth keep trying to push into a big grin, but she’s determined to play it cool.

We’re being shown around a catering college by a very professional and polished course tutor who is also a restaurateur at the upmarket restaurant operated by the students there as part of their training.

The tutor explains that they learn front of house skills, including flambéing and barista qualifications. Also, in the next academic year they are adding patisserie and confectionary skills to the course. This makes Hayley’s eyes light up even more, a child in a sweet shop!

Teacher Helping Students Training To Work In Catering

“Hayley has always loved cooking”

Hayley has always loved cooking, and has had some success in young chef contests. I think she enjoys it because having a hearing loss doesn’t matter – she can focus on the task assigned without constantly struggling to make sure she’s not missed out on anything.

I’m so pleased she’s thrilled about it because until a couple of weeks ago she had her heart set on other plans.

At a school careers fair last year, an RAF careers officer had said they were desperate for chefs and would take recruits at 16. After some square bashing she’d get catering training, gaining an NVQ, all on a wage most teenagers can only dream about.

With three years spent at Air Training Corps, which she’s loved and which has given her fantastic adventures, including flying a plane, target shooting and mountaineering, an RAF career seemed a natural progression.

They took her details and have called her a few times since last year to see if she’s still interested. So now she’s in Year 11, I suggested she call them to apply.

“Hearing loss ruled applicants out”

The next step, they said, was for her to check the eligibility criteria online. I logged onto the site and had a bit of a shock – it said a significant hearing loss ruled applicants out.

I phoned and asked what ‘significant’ meant, explained Hayley had a moderate loss and wore two hearing aids and his reply hit me like a stone. If the loss is enough to require hearing aids, the RAF can’t take her.

“It never occurred to me that deafness would be a problem”

How could I have been so naïve and not realised before now? I felt awful, having encouraged her to go for it, aim towards an RAF career. It never occurred to me that deafness would be a problem. Had she wanted to be a fighter pilot perhaps, but a chef?

Hayley was very disappointed but took it well, though she did ask about equality laws and I said I guess some employers such as the Forces are exempt from discrimination.

Onwards and upwards with a new plan. With Hayley’s boundless enthusiasm for life, I figured it was time to get her excited about college again. She’d first loved the idea when she found herself in those very kitchens two years ago taking part in a competition cook-off.

And by the time we’d finished our tour on the open evening, Hayley was sold. She’s going to get her application form in, hopefully be interviewed by Christmas and will know if she’s been offered a place by January.

All very exciting and fingers crossed it will focus her on working hard in her last school year in order to achieve the necessary grades.

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Hayley’s final year at school

Tiger Mother is excited for Hayley’s future as she begins her final year at school

Wednesday, a calm empty kitchen after the morning chaos

Oh the freshness of the new school year, the hope and renewed enthusiasm. Clean copy books, new haircuts, unladdered tights, and, dare I say it, clean hearing aids. Like springtime in autumn. And it’s Hayley’s final year. It’ll be an uphill slog to get through GCSEs before deciding next options.

Catering is absolutely her thing, ever since she won a first prize trophy for cake baking aged 11. There’s something about cooking – where deafness doesn’t matter, where you can focus and disappear into your own little world of creating delicious things – that appeals to her. So she’s deciding whether to gain an NVQ at catering college or try for an apprenticeship.

Students in a school hallway

Summer’s been busy – working in a coffee shop, baking and waitressing, and also washing up in a pub where the chefs let her help with food prep. All this experience is like money in the bank for Hayley – far more valuable to her than any amount of exam certificates. Hayley isn’t one of the A-star students; her targets are Cs or B.Techs, which will be a struggle, but she doesn’t mind and, to be honest, neither do I. I’m ambitious for all my children, but only in as much as they throw themselves at life, grab every opportunity, work hard and be kind – that way they’ll be happy.

“What she lacks in academic ability she more than makes up for in sheer determination”

Hayley may not be university fodder – but why should that be the Holy Grail for every school-leaver anyway? But what she lacks in academic ability she more than makes up for in sheer determination, conscientiousness and common sense. She’s a trier and a grafter and has turned her disadvantages into advantages; with her deafness and other learning and social communication difficulties, she’s learnt perseverance and gained strength.

Hayley will be the first to offer help and to say yes to any challenge, whether it’s marching the beaches of Normandy with air cadets to raise money for wounded soldiers (tick), zip-wiring into an icy Welsh mountain lake (tick), or competing in tough cook-offs in Young Chef contests every year at school since Year 7 (four ticks). It’s all helped boost her confidence and self-esteem, along with NDCS events she’s attended.

“She might be about to surprise the lot of us by joining the RAF”

And here’s a turn up that’s astounded her brothers – she might be about to surprise the lot of us by joining the RAF. At school, an RAF careers officer said they were desperate for chefs and would take her at 16. After some basic military training she’d get catering training, gaining an NVQ, all on a wage most teenagers can only dream about.

What a thought; little Hayley at 16 off in the big, wide world. Finally being judged by her practical abilities and lovely helpful self, not how she performs in class. Free to fit in and make friends, away from the rigid confines and expectations of peers at school, free to be who she is and blossom into a young adult. I’ve long felt things will be better for Hayley when she’s left school behind, whatever path she follows.

I’m so excited for Hayley. I’ve always told her the sky’s the limit – and it really is…