I went to Thorpe Bay High, as Southchurch High was known, from 92 to 97.
The philosophy of the school was put as little effort in as possible, but achieve the highest grade in the class. So when I scored 33% in a maths test and it turned out it was the highest grade, I was a hero for at least 2 minutes.
I had teachers that read the newspaper during the lesson. Teachers that cried in cupboards. Teachers that would be lining up for a fight with pupils. Teachers that were physically so stressed the class sat quietly out of sympathy. We had at least 3 teachers who were subsequently suspected paedophiles. We had teachers that found it impossible to control the class, as some pupils set about burning carpets and changing the clocks to end the lesson early. We had pupils that were drug-dealing/taking, alcoholics, mentally-ill, violent, experienced deprived and in some cases depraved home lives, and had serious undiagnosed behavioural issues. And that is aside from the fact that we had around 30 to 35 in a class per teacher attempting to learn something.
But despite all of this I did enjoy my school life. I have great affection for my old school. There were some brilliant teachers there that did give their souls to us. The facilities were very good. Our sports hall at the time was one of the best. Our school field was a good size. The different departments had exactly what we needed from science to IT. The physical structure of the school was as much as you could ask for.
It always baffled me as to why the school itself was not successful given it's location in an affluent area, and that is was known as one of the worst schools in Essex, to the point that I have great sympathy for anyone that attends there now, and I go out of my way to help them where I can in the position I am in as a Director of Adventure Island.
A few years back I was invited to a meeting at Southchurch High to see how Adventure Island could help. I jumped at the chance as I had always wanted to go back and offer some pearls of wisdom to guide them onto a different path to me and most others who went there.
And so I was privileged and excited to meet the Headmaster.
Normally in a meeting with people you haven’t met it is recommended to ease into the conversation with polite small talk and keep it light, so I thought I’d talk about the old days as a good starting point.
Unfortunately I may have come across quite negative as I mentioned how disgraceful it was to knock down the ‘old’ school for expensive housing instead of reducing class sizes. The response was class sizes didn’t matter. He may have had a point, but all I could remember were the times I didn’t understand something and found it impossible to get the attention of the teacher; felt shy to do so; or didn’t want to hold up the class.
I was completely unaware the school was being knocked down before the visit, and as we toured the premises I could peer through the railings to see what was left.
I was shocked.
I was told it was due to asbestos, but I couldn’t help but think it was perhaps overkill. Moreover, private housing is not a facility that can be used by a school! Needless to say I wasn’t sold.
Although it is too late now because there is no longer a building, I am still curious as to how the council allowed this to happen, and am looking forward to providing updates on any information I might find.
As an adult I have since learned that our mindset shapes what we get out of life, and the Headmaster was talking in a similar fashion. I liked what was said. I liked that he knew the pupils personally, and there were examples of that when some of the pupils felt free to engage with him on the day of my visit.
He mentioned that Southchurch was climbing in the rankings and though when touring the school I witnessed a pupil sleeping during class (I guess it happens) I was still convinced by what I was being told.
I left thinking that any prodigal child story of inspiring thousands of my fellow Thorpe Bayons to success was wholly unnecessary - the job was done or at least being done.
We did still put something together. We ran mock interviews with the pupils and many are now employed with Adventure Island and provided school talks on business.
So when I read that Southchurch has failed it’s Ofsted inspection I was quite surprised. It didn’t marry up with my impression of what the new culture had been created over the nearly 10 years the Headmaster had been there.
Reading the comments from former pupils, they have confirmed my experience of Thorpe Bay and so my immediate reaction was to find fault also. However, the truth of what really goes on will always be different from reality.
It may be that generally speaking for the vast majority of pupils their experience is great. They are learning and will go on to fulfil their potential for the betterment of themselves and society.
Any review from an outside body can only capture a snapshot of proceedings. And proceedings can fluctuate from both exceptionally good or bad on any given day with any given set of circumstances.
Most of us will not know the details of how the inspection was carried out; who carried it out; what the criteria is, etc.
We don’t know what the teachers had to deal with that day, or what the pupils were experiencing at home that might have affected their behaviour.
It could well be that the Headmaster and the teachers are in actual fact performing miracles to even get it to the level that it is at the moment.
So as easy as it is to conclude that the Headmaster and the school are failing it is never as simple as that.
If the truth really is poor leadership we will never know.
What is important is that anyone from across the city who is in a position to offer help, such as companies offering their best to come in and give talks, or other schools creating a process by which their highest achieving pupils can mentor those in need, can put themselves forward.
Southchurch, along with all the schools in Southend, are responsible for the character, ethics, morals, knowledge and path to opportunities of our future generations.
When we wonder why anti-social behaviour is on the increase or why mental ill health has sky-rocketed, we have to look at what is going on in our schools.
Perhaps we should look at how we can make our contribution to alleviating some of the problems. As much as it doesn’t feel like it, we are one society and we all affect each other.
We can simply say that it is what it is. Or we can write into the Headmaster and ask him whether having a doctor, nurse, engineer, police chief, business leader, scientist, and even a politician, come in and give a speech or take a lesson, might be of benefit to the pupils.
There are excellent plans already in place, which is how Adventure Island were able to help in the first place, but there are many other ways we may be able to connect experience and knowledge to the pupils of Southend.
And so Confelicity will look to formalise policies to both introduce professionals into the learning experience and set up an official forum upon which pupils can teach pupils from across schools.