Tuesday, May 12, 2009

An uplifting story

Yesterday's Evening Standard ran a story about a school called Robert Clack in Dagenham. This was a school in trouble, serving the kids from one of London's more deprived areas. The current head teacher, Paul Grant, presumably brought in to address the problems, suspended 300 of its 2000 pupils within his first week. For many of the kids, it was probably the first time in their lives that they were held accountable for their actions.

Last week, the school was awarded the Evening Standard's 'Best State School of the Year' award. The article was accompanied by a photo of some of the kids from the school. These are their ambitions, I have highlighted teaching ambitions for a reason, and will come back to that shortly:

  • Rochelle Rhodes is just 16, and plays netball for the England U19 team. She is tipped to play for England at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 (netball is not an Olympic sport). She wants to be a sports psychologist.
  • Ashton Russell (15) is playing the role of a young Michael Jackson in the West End production of Thriller Live! He hopes to make a career of singing and dancing.
  • Tapfama Mawayo (16) wants to be a doctor
  • Chris Lemmerman (18) wants to teach
  • Tunde Sowande (16) wants to use the law as a springboard to politics and has his sights set on becoming mayor of London.
  • Tina Imatitikua (17) also wants to be a doctor, hoping to follow this path at Oxford, and wants to take her skills back to Africa to work in a teaching hospital
  • George Lovell (16) is still deciding between forensic science and teaching
  • Margarete Riach (18) has been accepted to study economics at Cambridge but is first off on a short trip to Honduras to research tropical canopies
  • Ben Thorne (16) is still deciding between photography and journalism
  • Aarron Dinsdale (17) wants to build hardware or software systems and is determined not to be held back by his cerebral palsy
  • Joshua Aderyeje (16) wants to be a barrister
  • Mitchell Sinfield (16) is keen on drama and sport
  • Michael Smith (15) is secretary of the school council and wants to teach
  • Michelle Makunganya (15) wants a law degree but wants to work in the field of performing arts
  • Jake Knowles (15) isn't sure what he wants to do yet, but is happy to be a drummer for now
Many of the kids and their parents acknowledge the role their teachers have played in their success.

Ashton's mother couldn't afford to send him to a stage school, so she enrolled him for dance lessons at the local studio where she works part time as a dresser. But the Clack school staff spotted and nurtured his talent.

Rochelle speaks of the passion and commitment of her PE teacher in helping her fulfill her potential. The school brought in a coach for her.

But let's look for a moment at our aspiring teachers.
  • George may or may not teach, depending on the call of the forensic sciences on his life.
  • Tina wants to go back to Africa and work at a teaching hospital. She has seen the empowering potential of teaching and the impact it can have on a community.
  • Chris says "I can see looking at the teachers here how much satisfaction you can get from [teaching]"
  • Michael says "I want a career in teaching and hopefully come back here one day."
Sadly, the field may lose George to Forensics because the pay is probably better and he may have to adopt a pragmatic approach. But what a testimony to the teachers at this school are the attitudes of Chris and Michael!

I will continue to say that I think that our current education system is flawed, and that it measures and rewards the wrong things. Nevertheless, this achievement should not be diminished by this view.

Well done to Paul Grant and his team at Robert Clack. And all the very, very best to the students there. May you fulfill your potential and come to look back on your life with contentment.

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