Friday, May 17, 2013

Eastside Story: What Happens When You Take a Bright Black Boy From a Rundown Part of Town and Put Him in a Top Public School?

Rugby School as seen from "the close"...
Rugby School as seen from "the close" where according to legend Rugby football was invented (Wikipedia)
by School Improvement Net:

Marcus Kerr has benefited from an innovative scheme that gives London state school pupils places in top public schools. And he wants his success to inspire others.

This is from the Evening Standard…
What would be your instinctive reaction to the idea of taking a bright black boy from a rundown part of east London and putting him in a famous public school, the sort that half the Cabinet went to? Would it be to wish him well? Or to deplore the idea that private schools were poking their noses into the state school sector?
This isn’t an abstract question, and it’s one that Ray Lewis, head of the Eastside Young Leaders Academy (EYLA) in Forest Gate, an institution that aims to raise the game for black boys academically, has an answer for. When the head of Rugby School came calling on Lewis about 10 years ago to see whether the public school’s social outreach programme might offer places to boys from Eastside, Lewis jumped at the chance.
“It never crossed my mind that we might be involved,” he says. “The Arnold Foundation felt we’d be a good fit. We sent the first student in 2007 and we’ve had seven or eight going there in the past five years. I think they discovered a world they didn’t know existed.”
Lewis’s other role is at City Hall, where he’s in charge of the Mayor’s youth mentoring programme. “Boris is a good mate,” he observes. This, you might say, is mentoring writ large.
Now other schools have come calling to EYLA, offering places funded by educational trusts, with the result that a trickle of boys from Eastside have made their way to schools whose fees run to tens of thousands of pounds a year. At present, there are three boys at Rugby - four have already moved on to higher education - and another is due to start in September. There’s one boy at Wellington with another starting in September and EYLA boys have also gone to Eton and Christ’s Hospital.
It’s not many, but Lewis insists the effect has been transformative. EYLA’s aim is to help boys who’ve had difficulties in other schools - it offers after-school lessons - and, says Lewis, “we discovered we were working with boys who were often brilliant”. Indeed, it was often the bright boys who got into trouble because they weren’t being stretched academically.
“To take a child from here … is a risky business,” he says. “But these schools were prepared to extend themselves. To take a child from east London and send them somewhere ending in -shire … you cannot know what it does to our community. It breathes life into it. You have ambitions raised and aspirations fuelled.” Lewis is a former church pastor and his talk sometimes has the cadences of a sermon.
He brings in Marcus Kerr, 19, who is on his gap year after Rugby. He’ll be going to Queen Mary, University of London, to read computer science. He’s plainly bright, with the unassuming self-confidence that’s the flipside of public school brashness. “My mum [a single parent] always wanted one of her children to go to boarding school,” he says. “The head from Rugby came here. He put the idea into our heads and asked if anyone would be interested. We had to take tests and do a few interviews at Rugby. It was quite daunting. The appearance of people was very different from what I was used to. But people were very nice.”
Was he accepted as one of the crowd at school, or was he a bit of an exotic bloom from east London? “A bit of both,” he says. “People wanted to know what life was like here. But it helped that I joined at the same time as the rest of the year. Because we were all new it allowed me to make friends more easily.”
So, what about the objection that his advancement might have reduced the talent in the cohort he left behind? The argument against the old assisted places scheme, where local councils paid for bright pupils to go to fee-paying schools, was that it lowered state sector standards. Marcus isn’t buying that one. “My being at boarding school motivated several of my friends to become more academic. Everyone’s proud of me. Some did make posh boy jokes - but they never got to see my uniform. A few have told me that I helped them by example and by talking with them.”
So he didn’t feel he was creamed off? “I don’t feel I was picked out,” he says confidently. “I earned it by taking the tests. I want more boys to follow in my footsteps.”
Lewis, too, feels that the important thing is selecting boys who will benefit most from boarding school. “Not everyone is interested in going,” he says. “About 80 per cent aren’t willing to do what’s necessary. The prospect of two hours’ homework a night … it’s not for everyone.”
Ultimately, he wants about 25 boys a year to get scholarships. And no, he doesn’t accept that this lowers standards elsewhere. “Everyone needs to raise their game. Education isn’t for the school; it’s for the child. When a student leaves me … I see that as a chance for other children to move up.” More at:  Eastside story: what happens when you take a bright black boy from a rundown part of town and put him in a top public school?
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