Liverpool is a city of victory, boasting a football team who have won the second most English football titles (both first division and premier league) and a music band, The Beatles who played a critical role in counterculture 1960s Britain and are one of Britain’s most successful popular musical exports. The northern city also has one of the oldest Black communities in Europe and has a history of an array of Black pioneers such as John Archer, who went on to become the first Black mayor of a London Borough, Emma Clarke who is believed to be the first Black female footballer in Britain and songwriter and Neo Soul singer, Marsha Ambrosius of the duo, Floetry who penned Michael Jackson’s euphonious song, Butterflies.


The port city is not limited to a lustrous past, however. Liverpool is haunted by the 1981 Toxteth uprisings, the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, and the racist murder of teenager, Anthony Walker in 2005. Furthermore, the legacy of slavery is kept breathing by the picturesque architecture of buildings such as the Royal Liver Building and the so-called slave trader, John Gladstone whose statute towered outside Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in Seaforth from 2013 until 2020 when it was effaced from the public while church authorities decided it’s fate. John Gladstone is said to have claimed the most sizable quantity in compensation for slavery, while the enslaved Africans received nothing.


Although most of her formal years were not in Liverpool, Veronica Cairns is proud to remind me of her birthplace in Sefton, Liverpool. Growing up, she has had a mystifying experience. Her story illustrates the power of tenacity which was instigated by an unwavering sense of purpose to strive against the high tide of an 80s and 90s racist dystopian Britain.


Qualifying as a Science teacher over 27 years ago, Veronica’s first few years as a teacher were imbued with ambivalence and a lack of confidence which she locates to her former years growing up in Britain as a young Black girl. While being fond of science and displaying a finesse for the discipline, Veronica finished school with no qualifications to her name except for a CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education) grade 1 in History which she attributes to her history teacher Mr Bagshaw of whom she contends, displayed an optimism of her abilities.


Veronica Cairns was unfairly placed in the bottom streams for most subjects at her comprehensive school in Sheffield (South Yorkshire), despite coming top of her class for a science competition. Like a gift of exchange, the teacher cites a teacher Mrs Adams who bestowed her with a new pencil case as her prize for winning the competition. It was at this point that Veronica realised that she had a flair for telling captivating stories which she credits to her history teacher. Having an untapped enterprising spirit, Veronica’s passion for science and her skill for narratives enabled her to envision marrying the two disciplines in a befitting kinship. ‘’I linked science and history together in terms of the development of drugs, the development of diseases, how things were made and produced’’ said Veronica.


Despite a turbulent school experience, Veronica enrolled at Napier College in Edinburgh to do HNC Chemistry and in 1989 attained her honours degree as a Graduate of the Royal Society Chemistry (GRSC).


Impeded by her childhood experiences, Veronica never imagined becoming a teacher or a lecturer. The tide turned when the educator was invited to deliver a video session about Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (AAS) to science undergraduate students at Russell Group member, University of Leeds. A lecturer recognised Veronica’s ability to impart knowledge to young people in an engaging way that inspired and propelled them to exceed expectations. ‘’This video was taught across the university, so they needed somebody technical that knew the science’’ stated Veronica who describes this unimagined moment as when she ‘’got the bug for teaching’’.


The impact Veronica had on inquisitive undergraduate students who consisted of mostly 18 and 19 years spurred her to enrol at a local college in Leeds and gain appropriate level qualifications in maths and English to permit her to teach adult learners. Reminiscing on the experience, Veronica said: ‘’I took a bit of a gamble to be honest because I was working part-time as well as going to college at night and going to university to do this PGCE [Postgraduate Certificate in Education] part-time’’.


Embroiled with a myriad of challenges, Veronica successfully qualified as a science teacher with her specialism in chemistry and physics in the year 1996. Despite her new found academic credentials she was unable to secure a full-time job and resorted to supply work teaching in schools through agencies. Recent government data shows that despite Black people in the UK making up 4.6% of the working-age demographic, a pitiful 2.5% are said to constitute the teaching profession. White people represent nearly 80% of the working-age demographic but account for 90.3% of the teaching force and 96% of those serving as headteachers.


While working as a supply teacher in a school in Leeds, Veronica recalls an incident where an Ofsted school inspector accidentally observed and assessed her teaching an A-Level (Advanced Level) Physics and a Year 8 class. She said: ‘’About a day later, I got called into the office and the headteacher was like Veronica, we would really like you to stay on at the school because the Ofsted inspector thinks you were fantastic and was issued an Ofsted certificate for teachers who were shown a high standard of teaching’’.


The sensational news, however, did not materialise into a full-time job. Due to working for an agency, Veronica could not start internally as a school member immediately and had to hand in her resignation to the agency first. Fortunately, the school re-advertised the position, but since Veronica’s experience had grown, her pay rate had increased accordingly and the school decided to appoint two younger teachers instead.


‘’I really like schools. Although adults are great, and you can work with them. I want to work with children because I think if we catch our children younger and do more work with them, they’re going to become aspirational’’


At another school in the West Yorkshire region, Veronica’s enthusiasm for education transcended examination results for what was then called O Levels. ‘‘It was really getting to know the kids’’ said the teacher. What ticked. How to motivate children to learn, but more importantly getting them to understand ‘’how children learn’’. This motivated Veronica to gain a master’s degree in education which covered teaching and learning, assessment, and special education needs (SEN).


‘’In those days SEN wasn’t seen as a massive area. It was just oh these are naughty children, and we now know it is not just about being naughty children’’ adds Veronica. A report in October 2023 and published in the Child Abuse and Neglect Journal found that 32% of children in the children in need (CIN) category were excluded in school years 7 – 11, climbing to 40% for those on child protection plans (CPPs) and children looked after (CLA) and increasing for those also with a history of SEN in comparison to 12% for non-exposed children.


Taking on a role reminiscent to head of year, but unpaid, Veronica took the position to delve into academic challenges and barriers as opposed to behavioural factors. Spending approximately two years with her year groups, Veronica analysed how the school could alter their teaching styles and involve parents in aiding students to not only pass their exams, but to soar to their full potential.


Veronica Cairns (right) holding cell phone


At a successive school in a similar role, Veronica built on what was by now a plethora of school experience in improving academic outcomes. Her contribution led to her new school being rewarded with an outstanding Ofsted rating and while at the school, the threshold of students achieving what was then classified as 5 or more A – C grades improved considerably. ‘’I really like schools. Although adults are great, and you can work with them. I want to work with children because I think if we catch our children younger and do more work with them, they’re going to become aspirational’’ said the chemistry teacher.


After much perseverance and many setbacks, Veronica secured a senior leadership position. In her role she had greater influence in the school curriculum at Key Stage 3 and supporting heads of departments and was highly praised and recognised by the school, Ofsted, Reading Matters where she increase the chronological reading ages of students by 10 months, Bradford Local Education Authority, Step up to Market Challenge and secured several Enterprise rewards for the school and students as part of the school’s  Teaching and Learning and Enterprise curriculum. A key aspect of Veronica’s role that excited her was her autonomy to be more engrossed in community and parental relationships with the school. Strengthening parental interactions with the school helped unearth some of the barriers that were hindering children’s success at school such as dyslexia and children on the autistic spectrum.


Fast forward to 2011, Veronica Cairns was determined to complete her NPQH (National Professional Qualification for Headship) to secure the headship of a school. Unsure of what kind of school she would lead, what was indubitable for Veronica was that she was comfortable and assured that she could guide a school in a demeanour that would not only benefit staff but also the children and community.


Shortly before finishing her NPQH Veronica’s husband had a heart attack and Veronica had a major operation and following her return to the school which was now undergoing a degree of restructuring it made her re-evaluate her priorities.  After years of working full-time in high-pressure environments, the teacher opted for part-time work. ‘’I am still doing all the stuff I enjoy, but at a lower level and not working 40, 50, 60 hours a week’’ she told Nu Origins.


 ‘’Striving for what is right for children so that children can flourish and be confident in what they do’’


Finding solace freelancing as a self-employed educational practitioner allowed Veronica to engage in outreach work and in 2022, she was appointed Principal of Lextra Learning, a Leeds and London face to face and online-based tutoring company. The institution which was founded by Maths teacher and engineer, Jonah Ulebor provides tailored primary school level and secondary school level Maths and English tutoring accompanied by primary, secondary Science and A Level Maths and Science tutoring. The principal said: ‘’We have actually got some primary input at the moment from Leeds where we are working with a group of children from diverse social backgrounds that are not as favourable as someone living in a leafy area. We are working with children who are coming from different multicultural backgrounds from African, Afro-Caribbean, Asian, and European Eastern communities”.


Founder of Lextra Learning, Jonah Ulebor


Lextra Learning is not your typical tutoring service. With the advent of covid restrictions in 2020, they expanded their services to advise parents who were grappling with the often-arduous task of providing evidence of their child’s SEN status, assessments of SEN and enquires about Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP). ‘’Believe it or not. We’ve actually got some children with whom we work online with from Ukraine even though there is a war going on, they come to us on Zoom. One of our tutors is doing English with them’’ adds Veronica.


Lextra started with less than 10 students in 2015 and now has over 180 students learning online and at their centres in London and Leeds. Students come from across the UK from locations such as Lewisham, Dagenham, Birmingham, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, and we even get enquiries from Wales and Scotland. To support students at Key Stage 4 for forthcoming GCSE Examinations during January to June Lextra have run a successful Exam Attack as part of their Master Classes in maths, English and science and will be holding in 2024 our first ever Master Classes in English Literacy. In August 2022 and 2023, Lextra ran a successful Big Summer Catch-Up service to aid students who have fallen behind. During August 2023 before the new academic term also saw the company hold sessions such as Step-up to Secondary and Step-up to A Level Maths. Both of these sessions support students transition from primary to the next year of their schooling.


Veronica feels at home with Lextra Learning and would appear her motto ‘’Striving for what is right for children so that children can flourish and be confident in what they do’’ is ensconced in the fabric of the organisation. Unbounded by low expectations, Lextra prides itself in having students who were barely predicated a pass grade of 4 or 5, exceeding imposed expectations and achieving grades 7 and 8 which is the equivalent of A and A* respectively and grade 9 which is A**.


‘’Tutoring was seen as a very rich way of receiving additional support if you wanted education for your children. What Lextra does is we have different packages for everyone. For your child to grow and do really well at school, parents in particular also need that information’’ stressed Veronica.


Staff at Lextra Learning (Leeds centre)


The principal also believes that the industriousness work of tutoring companies such as Lextra does not always necessary get the credit from schools, the Department for Education [DfE] and Ofsted for not only improving academic standards, but in some cases exponentially lifting the academic standards of pupils who were on the periphery of failure. This is a potent point and resembles a similar observation made by education consultant and tutor, David Simon over two decades ago concerning Black supplementary schools.


Nu Origins approached both the DfE and Ofsted for comment.


Contact Lextra Learning

Lextra Learning are currently recruiting qualified DBS-vetted teachers. Student teachers and non-teaching staff are welcome and should send his/her CV to

To find out more about Lextra Learning, visit their website: Lextra Learning

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