'He winked at me! I can't believe it!' The day star-struck pupils met Mr President

Richard Vaughan

"I PLAYED TABLE TENNIS WITH BARACK OBAMA! I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!" screamed Jamila Uddin, a student at the Globe Academy in south London.

"HE WINKED AT ME!" yelled back Ayo Osisami who, along with her friend and fellow Year 11 pupil, were among a select group of students chosen to meet the American president.

He was accompanied on his trip by prime minister David Cameron, but there was little doubt about which of the men was the focus of the pupils' excitement. In fact, a joint visit from David Beckham and Beyonce would not have got a fraction of the response evoked by Mr Obama on Tuesday.

The school is no stranger to visits from VIP politicians. Former schools secretary Ed Balls was there on its opening day, education secretary Michael Gove has visited, and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has used it as a backdrop for the launch of his social mobility strategy. But none of them matched Mr Obama for star quality. Not even close.

"It was the highlight of my life," said Tanvir Khan, another Year 11 student, who had the appearance of someone who had been blessed by the Messiah. "He shook my hand. He was really funny - he even tried to cuss me!" he added, laughing.

"I would never have thought he would come to our school in south London. Who would have thought such a thing could happen? It will mean so much to people, especially (at) Globe Academy."

Tucked away amid a forest of mid-rise council estates, the academy had been told to expect a visit from a VIP, but few dared to believe it would be Mr Obama.

It was just minutes before the presidential motorcade arrived at the school gates that it became clear who the visitor was.

Most pupils had been dismissed for the day moments before his arrival, but once they realised who was about to appear, home was the last thing on their minds.

Many had to make do with standing in the street, hoping to catch a glimpse. But none on the outside looking in could have known that their fellow pupils were playing table tennis with the leader of the free world - and that the prime minister and Mr Obama were high-fiving one another.

But once the president's motorcade snaked its way out of this overlooked corner of London, the pupils rushed to greet the lucky few and the screaming and whooping began.

Amid the TV crews and jostling teenagers, principal Jason Baigent was keeping his cool, but he was in little doubt that it was a moment to celebrate.

"It's a great accolade," Mr Baigent said. "His visit, and our recent, successful Ofsted report, acknowledge very much what we are about - and that is that every child can achieve.

"It will be something to celebrate and discuss, but then we must get back to work," he added.

As the crowds drifted away, a little girl shouted to her sister, "Did you meet Obama?" The sister replied, "I shook his hand! I shook Obama's hand!" Smiles were on each of their faces, beaming from ear to ear.



While Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Language College in north London has its own special relationship with America's first lady, there is also a bit of history between the Globe Academy and the president.

The day before Michelle Obama took a group of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson pupils to Oxford University, Barack Obama was wowing students in south London with his table-tennis skills (see main story).

And when Mr Obama was elected president two years ago, Globe Academy's then Year 7 pupils each wrote a letter of congratulations. The children even went to the US Embassy in central London to meet the ambassador, who delivered their letters to the White House.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Richard Vaughan

Richard has been writing about politics, policy and technology in education for nearly five years after joining TES in 2008. He joined TES from the building press having been a reporter and then later news editor at the Architects’ Journal. Before then he studied at Cardiff University’s school of journalism. Richard can be found tweeting at @richardvaughan1

Find me on Twitter @RichardVaughan1

Latest stories