November 27, 2015

Director's speech at CAM presentation evening

Apologies for my late arrival this evening. I left Leeds at 4pm along with probably a few thousand others driving across the M62. Unfortunately, three vehicles didn’t actually make it to Manchester. I saw for myself the force of 70 mph collisions and clearly many drivers and passengers were being treated by medical staff at local hospitals.

Many thanks for the invitation to present at this magnificent occasion. I was delighted to be invited to speak last year and honoured to be here this evening. This is a time when we can reflect on the superb achievements of the young people in front of us and the chance for those that have left our academy to reflect on how small the place feels and how quickly they have all move on.

I want to make absolutely clear that I always enjoy coming to this academy and I’m not just saying that because you’ve invited me this evening but I genuinely feel welcomed when I arrive and there is an energy and enthusiasm from staff and students that is worth bottling and sharing across the nation’s schools. You have all managed to establish a unique atmosphere that is based on hardwork, respect and social justice.

I think that most of us know quite a bit about hardwork and respect. If you ever attend an interview for college, an apprenticeship, a job or university, take it from me, those two aspects (hardwork and respect) are pretty crucial so make sure you don’t forget that you have bucket loads of them. It is in your DNA, because you’ve attended this academy. But what about the term social justice? What does that mean and have you got it?

I started teaching in 1979. I chose to teach because I had spent five years working in a bank where I was expected to sell stuff to customers that wasn’t really what they wanted or needed. I was told to sell things that made the most profit for the bank. It was, at the end of the day, a money making machine and I was feeding that machine by going to work and helping it make a profit.

One Sunday, I was playing football for the bank in an international tournament. I was sitting on the back seat of the coach travelling home from the game with some of the children of the players. We started singing, as you do for some unknown reason on coaches going to and from football matches, and the seven hour journey seemed to disappear in a flash. Instead of hating the coach journey I had loved it. Being with young people had been fun and energising. All the things working for a boring old bank didn’t provide. I got home and thought to myself ‘What are you doing, you numbskull?’ I handed my notice in the next day. I didn’t have a job to go to and I didn’t have a place at university to train to be a teacher but I had faith in my ability so I told my shocked bank manager that I was leaving and I was going to teach in some of the most challenging areas of London. I was going to try and make a difference in society. There was more to life than just making money. He laughed at me. Yep, he laughed at me! But I really wanted to be a person who made social change happen through my own efforts but more importantly I realised that the hundreds of students I could teach and help might go out and make their own big difference. I had confidence in young people and this has been a constant theme of my work.

I think I was trying to make a difference for those that needed help and support. I was I suppose a sort of Pioneer, a social justice pioneer when I left the bank to become a teacher. This academy is now handing over the responsibility to be the next generation of social justice pioneers to you. You’ve had this special, high quality education at this academy. It has placed your improvement at its heart. It has all been about improving your life chances. Let me tell you the staff and governors have worked with your parents and carers and they have succeeded. But it is just a start. You now need to show real ‘backbone and not wishbone’ and go out there and make a positive difference for the lives of those you meet. Be ambitious and if you can make some money to live on then that’s great but do it in such a way that you treat everyone as fairly as you can. Offer yourself to your community. It’s the co-operative way. If you do you will have shown ‘social justice’ and you can definitely add that to ‘hardwork and respect’.

Thank you for listening. You have proved once again why this is such a special place. I congratulate you on your success and achievements and wish you well in the future.