Leading article: Arise Sir Geoff, and everyone else who can turn around our schools

Share
Related Topics
Geoff Hampton is a hero for our times. He is the Wolverhampton head teacher who was knighted in the New Year's honours list for turning round Northicote school over the past four years. Deborah Ross's interview with him, on page 13, is a moving piece of journalism which deserves to be widely read.

What he did was not complicated; it was simple. The way he transformed a useless school in a barren urban district was not simple in the sense that it could be reduced to a 10-point plan to be applied automatically to all sink schools - but in the sense that anyone knows immediately what is right when they see it.

The first thing he did was redecorate the defaced walls and replace the broken windows. The second thing he did was give the pupils school bags. "I personally put a pen, a pencil and a rubber in each one." Until then they came in unprepared for lessons, and if the school gave them books for homework it would not get the books back. But the first thing "Sir Geoff" really did was to care. He wrote to the parents of all 649 pupils asking them to come to a parents' evening. If he did not get a reply, he visited them at home. He told them all what he was trying to do at the school and said: "Please come and help me."

He replaced sweatshirts with a traditional tie-and-blazer uniform, set up a pupils' council, recognised pupil achievements through termly certificates and wall charts, employed someone to raise funds and try to change the school's negative image in the town, and set up literacy and numeracy projects to teach children alongside their parents.

It is not so much the specific policies, however, but that indefinable quality of leadership which has raised the school's exam results from 18th out of 18 state schools in Wolverhampton to second, beaten only by a selective church school - a transformation which has been achieved in an astonishingly short time. Mr Hampton became head at the end of 1993, just as the school became the first in the country to be "named and shamed". The magic ingredient in the change is his character: he takes a close personal interest in all the children, who respond with a respect bordering on reverence.

Now, this newspaper takes a pretty dim view of gongs and baubles but, if we are to have knighthoods, then they should be awarded to the likes of Mr Hampton. Pop stars and sports personalities do not need fancy handles to mark the public's appreciation. But good teachers must have all the attention the Government can lavish upon them. Our Education Prime Minister is to be commended for making Geoff Hampton a knight, and for making Tamsyn Imison and Patricia Collarbone dames. They, too, have achieved remarkable things, and it is interesting that many of their methods are similar.

At Dame Tamsyn's Hampstead School in Camden, north London, half of the 1,300 pupils have English as their second language, and yet it has the best exam results of any mixed comprehensive in the borough. She set out her vision thus: "We must have a mission, a strategy for achieving it and ambitious targets by which we can monitor success." Dame Patricia, former head of Haggerston Secondary School for Girls in Hackney, east London, adopted the motto ACHIEVE - Attendance, Commitment, Homework, Improvement, Effort, Valuing Everyone. The precise policy mix does not matter, although some elements are essential, such as the setting and measuring of targets. What makes the difference is a sense of purpose imparted by a charismatic leader.

There are Hamptons, Imisons and Collarbones all over the country, and it is desperately important that they should bask in the glory of public approval.

Indeed, it is vital that the status of the teaching profession as a whole is raised, so that more Hamptons are attracted into it, not just to be heads but to be teachers. Are there any graduates who cannot remember at least one teacher in their school years who inspired them and helped them discover how to use their minds? The pupils of Northicote are fortunate in that Geoff Hampton never wanted to be anything else. But if educational standards are to be raised in Britain, we cannot rely on a few random individuals to feel a calling.

There must be many people with Sir Geoff's qualities who are not using them to the full, or at all. Many more people could discover these qualities in themselves if they were given the chance.

In the end, teachers will have to be paid more. It is not realistic to expect people to look up to a profession whose practitioners are so poorly paid. But the Government is right not to make this the starting point of its crusade. First it must try to create a climate in which teaching is highly valued for its own sake, while at the same time distinguishing between good and bad practice.

That is what the New Year honours did. They began to move us to a point where those who can, teach, and those who cannot, go into management consultancy.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Subsea Cables Installation Project Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Subsea Cables Installation Project Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Head of Offshore Operations & Interfaces

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Offshore Engineering Design Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Abd Mubin Rahim of Malaysia falls to the floor after an unsuccessful lift during the Men's Weightlifting  

Usain Bolt was right about the Commonwealth Games, but we shouldn't blame the organisers

Teddy Cutler
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices