Patrick Cozier is head of Highgate Wood School in Haringey, north London, where pupils didn't appreciate it when he introduced a uniform
What led you to become a teacher?
I was one of those fortunate people who knew at a young age what I wanted to do. I decided I wanted to become a teacher when I was just 17. The school I attended had a scheme in place where post-16 students did community service within the main school. I helped out in the learning support department supporting about eight students with their reading and writing. It was brilliant - such a rewarding thing to do. The thanks and appreciation that I received from them was great and inspired me to become a teacher.
You recently said teaching poses specific challenges for ethnic minorities. How?
I have experienced positives and negatives. In most ways it has been advantageous. Many people of black, Asian or minority ethnic origin who have grown up in the UK, like me, have had to work hard and learn to switch between relating to their home culture and that of the indigenous culture at school. This can develop your adaptability, insight and understanding when it comes to being able to connect with pupils from all cultures. But there are also challenges, including people's expectations of you.
Colleagues can make the assumption you will be the best-placed person to have all the answers when it comes to pupils from the same cultural background as you. But I tend to interpret this as a positive pressure.
I value their trust and support and accept that it comes with the territory. I work with a company called Integrity Coaching to help me tackle the challenges.
How do you relax?
With my family. My wife and my children - I have two girls and a boy - keep me measured and grounded and remain, despite the importance of my job, the most significant part of my life. Plus I'm a huge football fan and spend many a Saturday afternoon down at the Emirates Stadium watching the Arsenal.
Do you worry about young people?
Not as much as many people do. There's a lot of negativity in the press about young people but my experience tells me that 99 per cent are happy, sensible, considerate and committed citizens. But I am worried about the ones who are vulnerable and find it difficult to engage in society.
As a society we are struggling to reach them and the consequences are serious, for them and for the rest of their communities. For children in general, it's probably as difficult a time as there has ever been. They're exposed to more things than ever before, especially technology.
However, I am an optimist, and the pupils who attend my school fill me with confidence that the future remains bright.
What has been your biggest achievement?
Firstly, achieving headship in the timescale that I did was something that fills me with a personal sense of pride. It wasn't something I'd necessarily anticipated happening as quickly as it did. Secondly, (and this is more of a team achievement than a personal one) the progress that Highgate Wood School has continued to make in the past few years. The results achieved by our pupils in the past two years have been the best that the school has ever had. This is down to the dedication of my fantastic staff and our brilliant students.
Who has been your biggest influence?
My parents, undoubtedly. They were on my case from day one when I probably didn't really believe I'd manage to achieve what I have. I was the first person in my family to attend university and receive a degree - something that my mother in particular always predicted and ensured that I aspired towards.
Pauline Ashbee, my predecessor at Highgate Wood, has also been a difficult act to follow, but has been nothing short of amazing in the support that she generously gave me in my first year in the job.
What's the best advice you have received?
I think that, ultimately, being told by my mother to "stay true to who you are, keep your values close by, and believe in yourself" probably resonates with me more than anything else.
How have you influenced school life at Highgate Wood?
This is something that is always easier for other people to judge, however, I would like to think that I have a calming, reassuring, positive and cheerful influence. On a physical and structural level, I have made some noticeable changes including some key curriculum changes and the introduction of a school uniform - something that made me wholly unpopular with most pupils.
What's the worst excuse you have ever heard?
There was an incident in which a pupil had behaved inappropriately and upset a nearby resident who made a complaint. I called him to my office and asked him what happened. He said he hadn't done anything wrong. What he didn't know was that I'd watched a CCTV tape that showed the entire incident and knew exactly what happened. He'd jumped on the back of the lady's bike as she was riding along. So I showed him the tape, after which he insisted that it "didn't happen like that".
2006: Headteacher, Highgate Wood School, Haringey, north London
2005-2006: Deputy headteacher, Highgate Wood School, Haringey, north London
2001-2004: Assistant headteacher, Winchmore School, Enfield, north London
1997-2001: Head of year, Park View Academy (formerly The Langham School), Haringey, north London
1994-1997: Teacher of maths, Southfields Community College, Wandsworth, south-west London.
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