Book review: Educating Drew: the real story of Harrop Fold School

A Dragon’s Den pitch from an Educating... headteacher

Sarah Cunnane

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Educating Drew: the real story of Harrop Fold School
By Drew Povey
John Catt
168pp, £14.00 (hardback)
ISBN: 9781911382324

Drew Povey’s new book is a shameless attempt to cash in on the success of the latest Educating… series, based in his school, Harrop Fold, in Salford.

The good news is that he’s doing it for all the right reasons. As he explains, Harrop Fold is facing a debt most would pale at: more than £1.7 million – down from an eye-watering £3.2 million in 2009.

As a result, Povey is doing everything he can think of to alleviate the financial burden. This ranges from the practical – downgrading to second-class stamps – to the downright hopeful – he reveals he has played the lottery every week since discovering the extent of the school’s money issues.

By leaving this revelation until the end of the book – sorry for the spoilers, folks – he cleverly disguises what I suspect is the true purpose of this book. This is a Dragon’s Den pitch put to print: a plea to help him continue a project that has been more than a decade in the making. Richard Branson is called out by name on several occasions (hopefully any investment he made would be more Virgin Atlantic than Virgin Cola, the taste of which still occasionally haunts my dreams).

Unfortunately, the time-sensitive nature of the book (one wonders if the commission came before or after the announcement of the series, and one suspects the latter), has led to the end result feeling frustratingly rushed.

Povey and Harrop Fold have a story to tell: that much is undeniable. The fact that many people time their watches to Educating Greater Manchester’s weekly outing is evidence enough of that. (Here, I must declare an interest: I livetweet the show – as I have done for its predecessors – on the @tes Twitter feed. I’m pre-empting the “Outstanding contribution to inane Twitter journalism” Pulitzer Prize that I assume is in my future.)

But Povey and Harrop Fold’s story, as presented in this book, is muddled – and fist-clenchingly close to being worth reading. It doesn’t help that it starts off with a tonally jarring parallel between the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers and the opening of Harrop Fold – a theme that is revisited, only a tad more successfully, later on in the book.

Povey’s school days

Far better is the parallel between Povey’s upbringing and the evolution of Harrop Fold. The stern authoritarian was, by his own admission, a bit of a handful as a child. (The best description of him comes from Povey’s brother, Ross, who describes his sibling’s school days as “a continuous assault on middle-aged women”.)

As Povey tells stories of how teachers wrote him off, it’s easy to see what drove him to work at Harrop Fold, where pupils were being similarly treated before he arrived. “I knew how horrible that felt,” he writes.

Despite this, there are also tales of those who inspired him, from primary teacher Mrs Firth, who taught him the power of seeing pupils as individuals, to disciplinarian PE instructor Mr Harrison, who helped him discover the power of hard work – and although no amount of trying ever made me better at hitting a rounders ball, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

As seen on TV, Povey is one of three brothers who work at Harrop Fold. Each of their routes into school life is fascinating – of the three, only Povey (comma Drew) went down the traditional PGCE route. A scaffolding around the three brothers to demonstrate Harrop Fold’s direction and ethos would have perhaps worked better for the book.

So, much like Povey’s beloved Everton FC, there is a lot of promise here. There is also a lot of darting about, some yelling and, overall, confusion about what the game-plan is.

If you want some vital context behind the Educating Greater Manchester series, as well as a deeper look into what Harrop Fold does and why – its “no exclusion” policy is a must-read – you’re not going to find a better book.

If you want an insight into the pressures being placed on today’s school leaders, this is also well worth picking up. I suspect, however, that many of the issues – from the “shallow” limits of Ofsted to the sting of PFI contracts – will be channels readers from the world of education will already be tuned into.

PS My most delightful discovery was that the Povey brothers were once a band. I’ve asked for it on Twitter and I’ll reiterate it in print: WHERE’S THE ALBUM, LADS?

Sarah Cunnane is deputy head of content curation at Tes and livetweets about the Educating... series from the @tes Twitter feed. She can be found on Twitter @Sarah_Cunnane


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