Inspiration from dreaming spires

18th July 2003 at 01:00
High-flying graduates, many privately educated, are to teach for two years in London's state schools. Karen Thornton reports

NATHANIEL Coleman, son of a Jamaican immigrant, grew up in a Birmingham pub with Lorrel, his single mother, and three siblings. He then went to the independent King Edward's school and graduated from Oxford with a first in classics.

Now the 22-year-old, who mentored a younger black pupil and took drama lessons in his teens, wants to "give something back".

Mr Coleman is one of around 200 high-flying graduates who will take up two-year teaching posts in London schools this autumn. Nearly 45 per cent will be teaching maths and science.

They are the first recruits to Teach First, the business and government-backed organisation, which is providing teacher and business training to attract talented graduates to schools facing teacher shortages.

In a barnstorming speech at Teach First's first anniversary reception this week, Mr Coleman paid tribute to the teachers who inspired him.

One in particular was Jenny Herbert, director of drama at King Edward's, which he attended through the assisted places scheme, abolished six years ago.

"Teach First has given me a real opportunity to impact on the next generation of British Caribbean young men," the aspiring politician told nearly 200 fellow graduates, two ministers and business leaders.

"Foremost in my mind was to remember where I came from. I wanted to come down from the dreaming spires and put my new-found skills in the real world, to benefit the real world."

Stephen Twigg, London schools' minister, seemed to be only half-joking after Mr Coleman's speech, when he said he would be looking for a new job.

Mrs Herbert said: "I hope he does run the country because he would give everyone a lift. Give him half an inch of inspiration and he runs a mile.

He inspired us more than we inspired him and will inspire a lot of youngsters."

Around a third of the Teach First students were privately educated, and a couple admitted to having concerns about pupil attitudes and behaviour in inner-city comprehensives.

Geraldine Scanlan, head of St Ursuline's girls' school in Greenwich, was glad of two maths and two English teachers but worried about whether such high-flying graduates would be able to relate to struggling pupils.

"Especially if things come easily to you, you can't understand how others find it difficult," she said.

"I was very nervous about them coming and what they would think of us. But they are so enthusiastic and positive about the school."

Richard Warne, head of Ashburton community school in Croydon, is hoping to have seven Teach First graduates, including Mr Coleman. This time last year he had to go overseas to find teachers for his school where 35 per cent of pupils are eligible for free meals and 10 per cent are refugees.

He said: "I am thrilled to be having them because I find them really refreshing. They are highly energetic, able and committed.

"They are not sailing in thinking 'because I'm a top notch Oxbridge graduate I'm going to be able to walk all over this school and deliver effective lessons' - they are well aware of what they have got to learn."

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