Matt Jones recently featured in the documentary ‘Will Britain Ever Have A Black Prime Minister?’ In this blog, he describes some of the steps he believes schools should take in order to create a culture of aspirational achievement.
Set an ambitious mission statement
Your school’s mission statement should be ambitious, but also succinct enough so everybody can understand it and learn it. At Globe, we say: “Our mission is to prepare our students for university and to be leaders in their community.”
It’s important to make the destination you are working towards really clear in your mission statement. Everyone here knows that they are aiming to get the qualifications they need to prepare them for university. The other part of our mission statement encourages students to think of themselves as leaders in their community. This indicates to everyone that character matters as much as academics and that we want our students to develop the habits and characteristics that lead to success.
After you have the statement, you need to communicate it all the time. It should be everywhere – in all the visuals around the school, in everything from PowerPoint templates to the posters and banners in the hallways.
Hire the right staff
Getting the right adults into the building is absolutely essential. When you’re putting together your staff, you should recruit not just based on skills and competencies, but also on alignment. Skills can be developed but what you can’t always find is someone who has the right sense of purpose, resilience and determination to achieve in difficult contexts. In interviews, I ask questions that allow the candidate to demonstrate that their values match our school’s mission.
Emphasize growth mindset
Having a growth mindset is pivotal. We give our students evidence that the growth mindset actually works. You’ll see quotes around the school from historical and contemporary high performers who have demonstrated this. Winston Churchill's quote is one of my favourites: “Success is one's ability to go from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” We also use a story about James Dyson, who developed the cyclone vacuum cleaner. We ask students how many versions of that invention he had to create before he got to a model that was effective and relatively affordable. Usually they guess 12 or 13, but the actual answer is 5,127. That kind of persistence has to be endemic; that's how you grow: blood, sweat and tears.
If you don’t get that A, it’s not that you haven't got the capability but because your attitude, learning habits and professional behaviours mean that you're not at that level yet; but if you work harder to develop these traits you can get those grades.
Get the community involved
Sadly, the biggest indicator of whether somebody will achieve or not in school is their parents’ job and salary level. Regardless of ethnicity, if you were raised in less advantaged parts of the country and have had generations of underachievement - where education hasn’t been viewed as having a great benefit - then building a culture of achievement is going to be more difficult.
Sometimes it’s appropriate to deal with it very directly. I've been here three years and over that time, the lowest performing groups have been white British and black Caribbean students. I happen to be half white British and half black Caribbean, so I felt I could speak to those communities with some credibility and sensitivity.
I took the step of inviting in parents from those communities, and we showed them the data, comparing their performance to other ethnic groups, both within the school and nationally. I asked them what they thought about it and we brainstormed ways we can work together to improve outcomes for their children. I told them that I fundamentally refuse to accept that these groups have any less potential than other groups, so let’s come up with solutions together. We followed up with mentoring programmes for those students and it had a real impact.
We also look for inspiration from our wider community. Our students are being mentored by professionals in the cabinet office and law firms or gaining work experience at companies such as Bloomberg and CapGemini. These opportunities help them to become more familiar with the cultural expectations and social norms and help to build their self-belief that careers like this are a genuine possibility.
Don’t focus on Ofsted
I believe that if we do the right things for our students then Ofsted will take care of itself. For that reason, we choose to judge ourselves based on student destinations.
Last year we had our first cohort of year 13s go off to university and 30% of them went to Russell Group universities; nationally it’s only 23% for state schools. And 48% of our students went to a top-30 university. We're very proud of that.
The most life-changing experience you can offer a young person is for them to be able to go to university and access the career of their choice. That’s what gets me excited, and emotional. That’s what all this hard work is for.
By Matt Jones, Principal at Ark Globe Academy in south London. He is a former professional footballer, who has worked in education for nearly 25 years.