Imagine being head of a school where the pupils go round chanting "we don't need no education" for much of the time. That was the task which beset Trevor Averre-Beeson when, in 2002, he took over at the helm of Islington Green School in north London – whose pupils provided the singing support for Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall".
It was, at that stage, a failing school, failed by the education standards watchdog on the day that Tony Blair took office. Ironic timing, as Blair had just spurned the school – the nearest one to his then Islington home – in favour of sending his son, Euan, to the London Oratory, a Roman Catholic school which had taken advantage of Conservative legislation to opt out of local authority control.
Averre-Beeson, who has published a book on his experiences in London, tried to make the best of the situation by informing the pupils that "we don't need no education" did, in fact, mean that they needed an education – as it was a double negative. It was a moment of levity that failed to spark much humour in his charges, sadly.
Undeterred, he managed to turn the school around – as his book titled, you've guessed it, We Don't Need No Education, points out.
He did it by installing a system of positive discipline – rewarding pupils for their achievements – and banishing exclusions. (In the time before he took over there were as many as 410 exclusions a year.)
The book gives an intriguing insight into the challenges of turning around a failing school – many of the teachers were reluctant to support his initiatives and wanted to retain the sanction of exclusions.
In the end, he quit, in 2006, after plans for academy status which he supported were met with concerted opposition from teaching staff. The school did eventually become an academy.
It shows that, even for a successful headteacher, the waters seldom flow smoothly. Averre-Beeson's positive discipline policy was abandoned soon after he left.Reuse content