'Sleep? It's a waste of time'

3rd September 2004 at 01:00
Ministers' favourite head David Triggs is on a globe-trotting mission to help his struggling peers. Michael Shaw reports

Sleep is not one of David Triggs' favourite activities.

The fast-talking principal of Greensward college in Essex - a school involved in so many initiatives that other heads say its letterheads "have more badges than a boy scout" - has been hired to turn round two notorious schools: the Greig academy in London and Thamesbridge college, Reading.

Yet he still finds time to act as a consultant for big-name education businesses, and this year has spoken in California, Moscow, Bahrain, Barcelona, Stockholm and Hong Kong.

Bounding into a cafe in a London business centre, he showed no signs of jet-lag from a recent flight from New York. "I'm 52 going on 15," he said.

"I don't like sleep - it's a waste of time, really." And with that, he places his laptop on the table and starts a PowerPoint presentation on executive leadership.

The white-haired principal does not win everyone over with his Tigger-like enthusiasm. Friends say he is a maverick who tackles educational problems with surprising thoroughness. Detractors call him self-obsessed. One griped that "if you go to an hour-long meeting with David Triggs, half of that time will be spent talking about David Triggs".

But Mr Triggs insists he is no egotist. "I might be loud, but I'm humble as well," he said. "I'm not a superhead or anything like that - there is no such thing. I'm a process facilitator."

Born in Lancashire, Mr Triggs grew up in Colwyn Bay, north Wales. His father died when he was eight, leaving his mother to bring up him, his older sister and two brothers while working at the local Tesco.

A keen football, rugby, and basketball player, Mr Triggs was persuded to teach at 16 by his own PE teacher after realising he was never going to be a world-class performer. He became an enthusiastic coach - a role he still performs with headteachers, he says.

Trained at Cardiff college and Reading university, he decided that he wanted to move into senior management at the age of 28 while working at Windsor boys' school.

After a deputy headship at St Martin's school in Brentwood, Essex, he became head of Greensward in 1994. When the school gained technology college status, he began to seek out other schemes with gusto, leading The TES to dub Greensward "the Government's favourite school". GCSE results have soared since his arrival, with the proportion gaining at least five A* to C grades doubling from 44 to 88 per cent.

Three years ago he set up a consultancy firm, ESI (Empowering School Improvement). He now works with challenging schools and education businesses.

A lover of jargon, Mr Triggs prefers to call schools "community learning centres", describes teachers as "knowledge managers" and enthuses about "world-class learning technologies" (computers) and "the MTV kids" (pupils).

His biggest challenge came last year when he was headhunted to lead the ailing Greig academy in Haringey, north London, after the sudden departure of its principal.

As a two-days-a-week "executive principal" he coached the then full-time head Richard Bassett.

He is delighted by the improved inspection reports at the academy and praises Mr Bassett for getting rid of the school's "street culture" and baseball caps.

Now that Mr Triggs has finished at Greig he will use the same executive principal model at Thamesbridge college, which is aiming to become an academy in 2006. He says his role is to help the principal to avoid falling into "alligator pits" and to offer ideas, rather than advice.

But the principal develops his own vision. Mr Triggs added: "I just say, 'Here's a model - you fill in the gaps.'"

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