Watched by millions of viewers each week over the last half term, Educating Greater Manchester was a fly-on-the-wall insight into life at Harrop Fold, the Salford secondary once known as the worst school in Britain.
Drew Povey, its energetic, straight-talking headteacher has written Educating Drew, his account of leading the school, which I suspect will be as popular with readers as the show has been with viewers.
The overriding theme of the book is Drew’s vision: he is not resigned to the challenges of a deprived community, there is no poverty of ambition for his students, and he’s worked tirelessly to engender a sense of hope, possibility and ambition within the Harrop Fold community.
Drew takes inspiration from the post-9/11 architects who sought to reimagine, not simply rebuild, the World Trade Centre, and draws a parallel with his work at the school. Having a vision and seeing it through are two very different things and Drew gives the reader frank insights into the challenges he faced, recalling for example the extent of teacher turnover in his early days as a head; at its peak, Harrop Fold required 30 supply teachers a day.
Drew is not a headteacher found sitting in his office
Drew is not a headteacher found sitting in his office. In Educating Greater Manchester, Drew was seen on the gate at the start of the day, pacing the corridors at lesson changeover and in lessons.
In the book, Drew describes approach to leadership as “wandering about”, adapted from Hewlett Packard, which provides him with a good knowledge of the school, offers teachers a sense of support and makes him very visible to students, particularly those not behaving as they should. As we learn more about him, it comes as no surprise that he takes this hands-on approach. He has a sense of personal responsibility evident from his early days as a teacher, never shying away from taking on extra responsibility.
Another strong theme is his belief that schools should never give up on any child. This manifests itself in the school’s behaviour management systems and its no-exclusions policy. Drew’s reflections on behaviour tend to centre on boys and the particular challenges they can face in deprived families.
He is clearly a positive role model for boys and wants to offer them a positive future earned through hard work and success at school. He writes about his own debt to the school teachers who steered him onto the right path; his affection for a particular primary school teacher is genuinely touching.
Despite the many strengths of the book, at times I found myself in disagreement. For example, I will never be convinced of Harrop Fold’s mobile phone policy. I also found myself wanting to know more about curriculum leadership given the significant changes to the vocational qualification landscape. Despite these qualms, however, Drew has not produced a manual on how to run a school, and doesn’t necessarily claim to be right.
I will never be convinced of Harrop Fold’s mobile phone policy
Educating Drew is an account of how he has led his own school and has offered readers honest, humble and at times genuinely funny accounts of how he has done it.
My final reflection concerns public sector cuts. Drew offers readers a vivid account of what these cuts mean on the front line, from making choices about the number of teachers the school can afford, to how big class sizes are going to have to be. Despite his tenacity and financial acumen, he has to go to extraordinary lengths to resolve his school’s budget deficit; he even wrote the book to generate income for the school, and he’s giving paid talks.
The fact he is playing the lottery makes my heart sink. I was left thinking about policy makers: are they aware of the extent of this distraction for school leadership teams up and down the country? Despite his seemingly insurmountable financial burden, he metaphorically dusts himself off and continues, spirit undiminished and reminds the reader that he has the best job in the world.
If you’re looking for inspiration about working in schools, despite their challenges, Educating Drew is for you.