George Rhoden talks to Mark Gardner about his experience as a Future First alumnus governor
George left school in 1978. He spent 31 years in the Metropolitan Police and in 2013 returned to his old high school, Kingsmead School in Enfield, north London, as a community governor. Today Kingsmead is an academy with specialist status in performing and visual arts.
“As an ex-student I know the demographics. I know the challenges these young people face. It means I can look at a sheet of statistics and think: ‘are they telling the true tale of the school?’ I’m in a prime position to give the other governors a reality check,” he explains.
When George was at school things were very different: “There were a handful of black and minority pupils and lots of overt racism. I think I could have achieved more. Now of course Kingsmead is very multicultural.”
One of the most significant developments since the 70s is that governors now have the means to focus on groups of students with particular needs: “If the figures in front of me are saying that we’ve identified underperformers, I want to see proactive efforts to address this. I want to help the school be more accountable, make sure the finances are accommodating the students and I want to know how the managers are supporting one another. I want results. If they’re not good I want to know why. This structure of support wasn’t there when I was at school; it is now.”
As well as acting as a community governor, George has taken on another responsibility in the school – that of motivational speaker. Head Yvonne Barry says: “George has spoken at High Achievers’ evenings and addressed a full theatre of students from years 7 to 13. The fact that George was a student here has provided students with a powerful role model. His experience both in Britain and abroad is invaluable to the school and his achievements in the police force and beyond are magnified by his role as a governor. This responsibility shows our students that he cares about their education and is now taking a key role in influencing the running of their school.”
George adds: “The students know I’ve been there and what I’ve gone on to achieve. I tell them that with self-belief they can achieve, that they must work hard now, not wait until they leave school.”
Although governance has changed markedly since George was a pupil at the school he feels there is still room for improvement: “We could be more proactive and there could be more dynamism. Business in meetings could be streamlined. On the governing body, I’m aware of the politics, you’ve got have diplomacy, mediation – know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I try to look for a solution to a problem.
What alumni governors can contribute
Future First is building ‘networks’ of alumni in state schools, the same kind that students from private schools enjoy. As well as governors, they provide schools with a pool of former students to act as role models, mentors, fundraisers and to offer work experience placements.
“These are super committed people. They really want to give back. Future First alumni governors have an additional perspective. It’s a very different thing growing up in an area and having that understanding of the pressures as well as the opportunities. You’re guaranteed to have good insight. For young people it can help them to understand how what they learn today will become relevant.”
Alex Shapland-Howes, managing director, Future First www.futurefirst.org.uk