A council manager who works to improve the lives of Croydon schoolchildren at risk of exclusion has been made an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
Val Burrell-Walker, who is the council’s Fair Access Manager for primary and secondary pupils, has been recognised for services to education after over 15 years supporting children into the right school, including those at risk of permanent exclusion.
Hundreds of young people have gone through the secondary fair access panel she set up, ranging from children moving into the borough for the first time to children being given a second chance at mainstream schooling after time in a pupil referral unit. She runs a similar panel for primary pupils.
Unlike a school admissions panel that can only consider restricted criteria, Val’s work involves considering the child’s detailed education history and gives the pupil a chance to present their own case on what they want. This aspect has led to many councils approaching Croydon to ask Val’s advice on introducing their own similar panel.
The 57-year-old from Croydon started her career as an administrator at Lambeth Council in 1980, working in community race relations around the time of the 1981 riots while working for Valerie (now Baroness) Amos. She later joined a private employability and training provider before becoming a primary school teaching assistant.
This led her to her first experience of helping young pupils experiencing difficulties, coaching five struggling Year 5 boys to pass their SAT tests. After gaining her degree in Education and Women’s Studies from the University of Roehampton aged 36, she joined Croydon Council in 2002.
Thanking her family – husband of 30 years Neville and their four children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild, Val said she could not believe the news when she got the call. She said: “When I spoke to the guy on the phone, I asked ‘Are you joking?’. I didn’t have any expectation that little me would be nominated for something like this.”
She said that it was important for her to accept the award both to inspire other Black people and because it underlined the importance of her career that has helped reduce inequalities in society.
She added: “I build a relationship with the kids and it is about getting them to like school again. I would say this is recognition for hard work and commitment over a long time to making a difference to as many young people as I can; it’s for the people of Croydon, really.”
“I’m delighted for Val’s MBE because over the years her work has helped to inspire so many young people to thrive in the face of adversity. She is an inspirational force to many, including me.
“By offering a supportive and encouraging environment, Val’s work makes a real difference to the future prospects of many children in the borough, and the award proves her commitment has not gone unnoticed.”
Councillor Alisa Flemming, cabinet member for children, young people and learning
Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) is given for ‘an outstanding achievement or service to the community’ that ‘will have had a long-term, significant impact and stand out as an example to others’.