Friday, 13 May 2011

Lessons for Life

There was a great turnout in the Commons last night for the launch of Lessons for Life, a collection of 50 interviews with education, business and government leaders that I conducted for HTI, the education leadership charity, to celebrate their 25th anniversary. Estelle Morris hosted the event.

Among those giving their views on education - and remembering their own schooldays - are Sir Alex Ferguson, Michael Gove, David Blunkett, Sir Martin Sorrell, Sir Michael Barber, Lord Baker, Digby Jones, David Puttnam and Yo Sushi! founder Simon Woodroffe. Education leaders interviewed include Sir Michael Wilshaw, Dame Sue John, chief inspector Christine Gilbert, Dame Ruth Silver and Sir William Atkinson, who spoke at last night's launch.

Sir William, who has transformed the Phoenix High School in West London, tells me in the book of his own remarkable story after he arrived in 1957 in the UK with his mother and older brother:
"The teacher, because my mother spoke with a very broad Jamaican accent, took into his head that my brother was aged 7 and had not been to school, whereas I was aged 9 and had been to school for two years. Therefore, it was unfortunate that I couldn’t read and write and he was a mini-Renaissance man,” recalls the headteacher whose leadership was the inspiration for the Lenny Henry character in the BBC series, Hope and Glory.

“So, I spent two years in a remedial class, which initially had a profound effect on me, with other children who were not having a good time at school, learning that I was not terribly bright and not terribly good at school. As result, I managed to fail my 11-plus at 9 when they thought I was 11. It was only then that they discovered my age. By that time, I’d internalised a number of very negative things about myself as a learner. So two years later when I took the 11 plus, I failed again. Most people only fail it once!”
But that early setback didn’t deter William. And he owes a lot to sixth form head at Battersea County school, Ray Sanders, who helped him gain the O levels he needed – after an unsuccessful first attempt. “Ray decided that I had potential that I didn’t think I had,” he says. “He got me to realise that I was capable of doing far better than I thought I could. He was also the person who made me want to become a teacher; not only Ray, but also the young teachers working in that comprehensive school. For me, they appeared to be good role models; these were people who really wanted to make a difference before it was fashionable.”
"Lessons for Life" is being sold in aid of the Inspire programme which promotes mentoring for disadvantaged young people. Copies are available from HTI at £25 each.

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