What was your experience of school?
I had a chaotic upbringing and left school with no qualifications. My father is Jamaican and my mother English and my home life was a different world to school. My parents came from difficult backgrounds and found reading difficult. I had low self-esteem, which affected my confidence and I wasn't emotionally stable enough to deal with the demands of school. I did what a lot of children do and attracted attention in other ways. I couldn't read properly until I was about 20, but English was something that I had a natural affinity towards.
How does Kija work?
Kija, named after my daughter, is based on five areas: thinking skills, emotional intelligence, relationship skills, motivation, and time and motion. When a pupil comes through the door, you think about these five areas and about what area needs to be developed. Is it confidence, drive, resilience? The online teaching resources are divided into two areas: education and wellbeing, and all the programmes address key aspects of Seal and PLTS (personal, learning and thinking skills).
How did you come up with the idea for Kija?
I had a fairly traumatised childhood. I've always tried to be reflective, so I started to look at why I had a problem with trust and self-esteem to work out how I could manage that better. I saw a link between relationships, confidence and achievement in my own personal development. As I became a teacher, I started to think about developing this in pupils and Kija enables pupils to overcome obstacles to realise their potential. When you teach, you begin to realise that often, people aren't in certain groups because of their ability, but because of their circumstances. Also, academically able pupils often need help to develop social and emotional skills. Kija is about recognising pupils' core emotional, social and motivational needs and understanding the link between this and academic achievement.
Who has been the biggest influence on you?
Two people had an influence in terms of making me realise my own potential. John Nichol, deputy head at The Bishop of Hereford's Bluecoat School, is one of the best teachers I've seen. But also, he's someone who said to me early on: "You can do more than this" when I was working at Bodleian library. He made me realise what I could achieve. I met him 13 years ago through a friend but also worked with him during a teaching placement. Another person who had a big influence on me was a teacher on my Access course named Lambert. He saw I had a passion for English and encouraged me to train to be a teacher.
What do you think is the main issue for young people today?
Confidence is essential for young people, regardless of ability. But the one word I use is validation - being valued. If I teach someone from the bottom set, borderline group or someone who's a top flyer, they will need different types of validation: the pupil in the top set may need emotional validation, or social validation, even if academically, they're very good. A borderline pupil who's socially developed may need academic validation, to know that they are able to achieve their goals. It's about understanding what needs to be valued.
What's your biggest achievement?
Helping the school achieve outstanding status in January this year. I was observed on the day and my lesson was mentioned in the report, and I think that being part of that success is my proudest achievement.
What are the main challenges in your school?
Literacy is a challenge. We're developing a reading culture now and a programme that quizzes pupils' ability. But the level of literacy that some pupils come into the school with limits what they can do across the curriculum. Self-belief and confidence are also issues. We have to build the idea in our young people that confidence and resilience can be developed.
Also, if they're thinking about going to university, it's about not having a ceiling on their aspirations, even if they're the first person in their family to go to university. I'm living proof of that. It's about making pupils realise that literacy and intelligence aren't the same things.
What would you do if you were Schools Secretary for the day?
I'd widen the understanding of what it means to be successful. Learning is often narrowly focused on one specific thing - learning by subject. But the core principle of Kija is about having a wider focus on how learning occurs. What I would do is show people the five areas that need to be developed to widen the nation's perception of how learning develops . The focus has for too long been on academics. For me, the relationship between different skills needs to be developed.
What's the worst excuse you've ever heard?
The pupils I've had tend to be more upfront about why they haven't done things, rather than making excuses. One pupil said: "The thing is, I had to go out, Sir. But don't worry, I'll do it next week." The guy was mature and upfront about it, rather than saying: "My computer crashed," so it was difficult to be angry. It's a endearing excuse and I have to admire that charm.
- 2002: Advanced skills English teacher at The Stourport High School amp; VIth Form Centre, Worcestershire
- 2001-2002: English teacher at Chipping Norton School, Oxfordshire
- 2000-2001: PGCE at Westminster College, Oxford
- 1996-2000: TEFL teacher at Oxford Intensive School in English
- 1989-1996: Bodleian Library, Oxford.