Interview - 'The school is owned by the community'

12th February 2010 at 00:00
Manny Amadi was among the parents who campaigned to open The Charter School, a south London comprehensive. He has been a governor since the start

What sort of school is The Charter School?

It is the last maintained 11 to 18 school to be opened (September 2000) - all those which have opened since are academies. We take the 180 pupils closest to the school in Year 7 so we really do serve the needs of the community (London borough of Southwark). That includes the children who live in #163;1 million houses and those from very deprived backgrounds. The school sits in the middle as an oasis of tranquillity and aspiration.

What is the philosophy behind the school?

The school has to be open to all. I use the word "all" a lot. That said, we are very oversubscribed - there are 950 children going for 180 places, but because of the social housing around here it is very hard to engineer your way into the school. It is at the heart of the local community - the furthest pupils have to travel is about 1,800 meters (1.1 miles). Most of them walk in together or cycle. Pupils from the local primary used to move up to about 48 different secondary schools. Some would go private or move out of the borough. Now they can come here. I have four boys myself, and I love to think that they will walk to school every day until they are 18. It creates a real community feel and sense of continuity among the children and between their parents.

What prompted you to become a governor?

My oldest son was about three years old at the time, so I wasn't really thinking about secondary schools, but I heard about the parents' campaign and it resonated with me. I thought there should be a community school which provides for local children.

How was it in those early days?

It was a very interesting time. We appointed the headteacher (Pam Bowmaker, succeeded by David Sheppard), who went on to appoint a strong senior management team. I have never had such a busy volunteering job and it wasn't always easy juggling that with my day job. We had meetings in people's houses and discussed the principles, values and ethos that would shape the school. We were lucky because we could draw on lots of different parents' skills from the marketing and business world.

What are The Charter School's unique selling points?

The core things are its sense of community, its sense of excellence and ambition, and its leadership at all levels. That includes the professional staff, the key stage leaders, the pupils, the governing body and the parent body. Everybody in the school has a stake in it. In that way, I think the name is very apt. The school has been given a charter by the community and everyone wants it to succeed. There is a relentless drive to achieve the best for all pupils and to continue to improve.

Did the governors ever feel daunted?

There was a time challenge. The school grew year on year and it was hard to plan for a community of learners who we didn't yet know, but we knew pupils only had one chance. We also felt well supported by the local authority in terms of strategic planning.

What is the secret to the school's success?

I talk about success in terms of hardware and software. In terms of hardware, you need to put in place the right people of the highest possible calibre and have the right building and structures in place, such as the curriculum. In terms of software, it is more about the psychology of a place. There is a firm sense that this school is owned by the community. Parents, the governors, the pupils, the teachers - we all want it to succeed. Without The Charter School, there is no alternative state provision around here. That creates a strong desire for success.

Is parental involvement as important now as it was when the school first opened?

Absolutely. If anything, it's stronger now than ever. The concept is embedded in the DNA of the school. It's something that is constantly demonstrated and we want to nurture it. It stems from the community being determined to have a good local school that they trust. It is special when you get that.

Have there been problems along the way?

It has not all been smooth sailing. Every year, we had to recruit new staff for the growing cohort, and sometimes it was hard to get consistency across the whole team. This is an inclusive, inner-city school and some of our pupils are challenging, but we have found ways of managing that. Ofsted has said that our pupils' behaviour is now exemplary.

Do you enjoy being a governor?

I find it incredibly rewarding. People ask me how I manage to give so much of my time to the school, but I feel like I gain a huge amount. I'm involved in a body called V, which looks to increase young people's engagement in the community through volunteering. It's wonderful to feel like you're making a difference.

When will you call it a day?

I have been a governor for about 11 years and have had my term extended by another four years, so no time soon.


2008: CEO, CE Advisory Services, a business and society consultancy

1998: Governor, The Charter School; Awarded an MVO (Member of the Royal Victorian Order) for services to the community; CEO, Cause Effect Marketing

1991: Director of development, The Prince's Trust

1989: Head of regional campaigns, Youth Business Initiative

1987: Head of community campaigns, National Council of YMCA

1984: Project manager, Marks Spencer

1983: Marketing manager, Hertz.

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