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Improving the life chances of young people regardless of their background, origin or postcode

Angelina Idun, SSAT’s new director of school improvement, tells about her background in inner-city schools, what motivates her and how she is looking forward to working with you

I was delighted to join SSAT on 5 June. As you leave a leadership role and take up another it is helpful and important to reflect on the journey that you have been on in preparation for the one that you are about to embark on. I was acting principal at Ark Evelyn Grace Academy (EGA) in Brixton until May this year. The five years I spent at EGA further fuelled my passion for leading in settings dedicated to doing whatever it takes to ensure children are equipped to lead successful lives. It also deeply enhanced the professional and personal learning I have thrived on in the 28 years I have been a teacher and school leader.

If you were at the SSAT National Conference in December 2016 you will have heard me say that I have been privileged to spend most of my career in incredibly vibrant, diverse south London schools. They serve some of this country’s most disadvantaged young people and the complex, fragile communities in which they live. These are schools where high proportions of children are eligible for free school meals or pupil premium funding or are deemed to be vulnerable. Higher than average numbers have special educational needs or disabilities and/or low levels of literacy on arrival in year 7. In these schools, you will find many students who, alone or with their families, with little or no English at all, have travelled thousands of miles in search of a better and more secure future. Some have amazing stories of their journeys to tell.

Appetite for success

Convincing some families that a good school experience can help to improve quality of life is a challenge, but low aspiration in the communities I refer to is not the rule. Instead, one finds enormous appetite for success. Parents wanting better for their children expect the school to which they send their children to be central to creating learning and a range of other opportunities that make it possible for that young person to advance. I have always been driven by an unwavering belief in the difference a high-quality education can and must make to the life chances of young people regardless of their background, origin or postcode.

There is nothing lofty about such a vision. As practitioners, our desire has to be that all children make progress, secure excellent outcomes and flourish. Like me you will have witnessed how we have a powerful impact on individuals, groups, whole schools and the wider community when we get the culture and ethos of a school right. We relentlessly focus on quality teaching and learning and work hard to build leadership capacity at all levels. There is nothing like the sense of pride you experience when you quietly observe the influence that you have directly or indirectly had on a young person or a colleague, or when you become aware of the legacy you may leave.

Three Ofsted inspections in five years

That said, none of this is easy and we must not underestimate how great the responsibility of those working in schools and their leaders already is. If anything, the level of responsibility, accountability and scrutiny continues to increase. Having gone through three Ofsted inspections in five years, regular monitoring visits and assessor visits for quality marks, I know this well. No matter what the context of your school, the pressure of constantly being challenged and tested on your thinking of what it takes to lead and implement change for improvement that is practical, sustainable and successful is tough. It takes resilience to do what we do in our schools every day. It takes courage to take risks, do things differently and make sure that whatever we do is in the best interests of all young people – not done just to satisfy external scrutiny.

It takes courage to take risks, do things differently and make sure that whatever we do is in the best interests of all young people – not done just to satisfy external scrutiny

In the current educational climate, school-to-school collaboration becomes all the more important. When things are tough or we feel things are not going as they should, it can be tempting for us to close in on ourselves. Our schools however are not islands. We may often feel that the expertise and skill within our own department, school or MAT will achieve our goals. But if we are really going to continually improve practice in the interest of our children we need to look beyond our school, local authority or MAT for new thinking, energy, inspiration and ideas about how to innovate.

I’m looking forward to working with SSAT member schools, wherever you are on your improvement journey.

Watch Angelina’s presentation at SSAT’s National Conference 2016


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