i Editor's Letter: The privilege was all mine


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The Independent Online


Yesterday, together with i's head of marketing, Ciara, I was invited to visit the Woolwich Polytechnic School in south-east London. The teachers there, in their wisdom, buy 600 i copies on Wednesdays for use in their reading periods. I will write more about our visit next Wednesday so that the boys (and one confident sixth-form girl, aptly named Princess) can read about themselves, but I want to say thank you to teachers and pupils alike for an inspiring day.

Woolwich Polytechnic is a 1,500-pupil boys' school (with a mixed sixth form) in Thamesmead, one of London's more economically deprived areas. It embodies the diversity of modern Britain. Half of the pupils do not speak English as a first language at home, but there are 70 languages spoken among them. Fifty students enter in year 7 without being able to speak English at all. Many are refugees, or their children: from Afghans to Somalians, an increasing number of Nigerians and east Europeans. There are Nepalese too, because of a nearby Gurkha barracks. All must adhere to their teachers' policy of "no excuses". They insist every pupil can achieve.

The co-heads, Byron Parker and Tim Plumb, have much to be proud of. The school has gone from "good" to "good with outstanding features" to "outstanding" in its last three Ofsted reports. It is clear why. The bright-as-a-button students we met were smartly-presented, curious and fearless. Their insights forced us to think about our motivations as well as our practices. More about our uplifting day next week.

At the end of each session, pupils shook our hands and some even said "thank you, it was a privilege". They were wrong. The privilege was all Ciara's and mine.