Barrow born national newspaper boss inspires area's teenagers to believe in themselves
Last updated at 12:22, Friday, 11 October 2013
BARROW born publishing director of the Independent Group Chris Blackhurst has written in today's edition of the 'i' newspaper about Barrow youngsters, Furness Academy, the former Grammar and Parkview buildings, and inspiring teenagers to believe they can go anywhere and do anything.
Mr Blackhurst writes in today’s edition of the ‘i’...
WHEN I was at school, I cannot recall anyone from outside coming to speak to us. Apart from Speech Day, when a dignitary from the town gave an unmemorable and wholly uninspiring talk before handing out the prizes, there was nothing.
The school had been in existence since the Victorian era, yet no former pupils ever visited, and we were not encouraged to meet or have any dialogue with them. The idea of an old boys’ network that could help us in our career choices and later life was anathema.
This was Barrow Grammar School for Boys in Barrow, Cumbria. A state grammar, it produced good results - every year, large numbers went off to university, usually in the north-west of England, or they entered the local shipyard.
The lack of ambition among school and pupils was mutual. That’s not to say it was not a first-class school - judged on exams and sporting prowess it was - but it was only when I went to university, and rubbed shoulders with those who had been to private schools for the first time did I realise what we’d missed.
They could tap into all manner of contacts that we simply did not possess. Their education had been enhanced by listening to guest speakers. As a result, they’d developed a “can do, will do” attitude. Nothing it seemed was beyond them; everything was viewed as possible.
My school no longer exists. Correction: the old buildings of the boys’ school and the girls’ next door still stand, abandoned and forlorn. They will either be demolished or used for something else (although it is hard to think what, exactly).
Soon after I left, the grammar schools were no more. They were replaced by a comprehensive and sixth form college. Now, the site has been boarded up, and the comprehensive scrapped in favour of a brand new academy. That’s where I went to visit, to Furness Academy and its gleaming, £20m-plus premises.
It’s a superb development. Open and airy, with lots of light, it’s far removed from that we had to endure. It houses up to 1,200 pupils aged 11 to 16, and has all the accoutrements of the 21st century school: IT facilities galore, language labs, superb refectory (our canteen was in a Nissen hut), fully-equipped gym that would do any members' club proud. But behind the building lies a short, chequered past. Furness Academy has had a brief, troubled history with, at one stage, the highest exclusion rate among academies in England and woefully poor GCSE results. This led to Ofsted ordering Special Measures, and the suspension of the principal. The interim principal, Des Herlihy, was responsible for turning round a failing comp in Oldham. Now, he’s been asked to try and repeat the same trick in Barrow.
Herlihy clearly puts great store by the virtues of discipline and hard work. Indeed, he asks specifically that I stress to the Year 11s I’ll be addressing, that nothing will be given to them, if they want to get on they must put in the hours. Everywhere round the school there are signs imploring good behaviour. All the pupils are wearing uniform.
Barrow is isolated at the end of a peninsula, to the south of the Lake District, surrounded by the sea on three sides, 40 minutes from the motorway. “The longest cul de sac in Britain,” is the description afforded to the journey there.
Growing up in that environment there is an “us and them” mentality. While I’m talking to the 15-16 year olds it occurs to me that the only way this mind-set can be broken is if more people like me - who grew up there, shared the same experiences and know exactly what is going through their heads, and who now live away - go back and help. It’s about getting children to believe in themselves, something independent schools regard as second nature. I speak to the whole year and they’re a brilliant audience: listening, attentive, sparky.
Afterwards, Herlihy and I agree that all they lack is self-belief. Gain that and they can, literally, go anywhere and do anything. Herlihy asks if I will also speak to his former school. There is definitely a crying need. Why should public school pupils be the only ones to benefit?
At Barrow Sixth Form College, the hall is packed. “It’s a good crowd,” murmurs David Batten, the principal. They can’t all want to be journalists, I reply. Some do but the majority, I realise, have turned out to hear a voice they identify with, who was a sixth former once, in Barrow just like them.
They’re determined and motivated but their horizons require lifting.
Their destinations of choice tend to be the nearest northern universities. Again, getting them to think bigger picture is part of the battle.
I was fortunate, in that my headmaster encouraged me to try for Cambridge and I was awarded a place. Too many of my contemporaries, who stood every chance of going to Oxbridge, who, looking back I realised were clever enough, did not even get off first base: they didn’t apply because they felt it was snobby and elitist, southern, and not for them.
Such thinking in fee-paying schools is, of course, abhorrent. There, by hearing from old boys and girls, by sitting at their feet, listening to their stories, tapping them up for the prospect of work experience and internships, they are both fascinated and driven.
The sixth formers’ questions come thick and fast. They will go far provided we show them how.
First published at 11:01, Friday, 11 October 2013
Published by http://www.nwemail.co.uk
Have your say
We have all got to get out of our comfort zone. Encouragement and believing in someone is essential for child development. Take a few risks.If you do what you always do youll get what you always have
I grew up in this town. I went to the Girls Grammar School in the seventies. My education inspired me to be a teacher IN THIS AREA. I am now assistant head in a central Barrow school, and have hopefully inspired twenty six years worth of kids to go on and do something with their lives, because of the 'Barrow' in them, not in spite of it. I have met former pupils of mine who are teachers, actors, CID, police, midwives, architects, pilots and those who are just plain happy living in Barrow,and being parents themselves. There have always been, and will always be pockets of inspiring people in our town... make no mistake about this!!
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