Dr Andrew Reay
The Lightbulb Moment
I first trained as a teacher in 2001, initially, as a bit of a fraud! I actually became a teacher because I required a teaching degree to meet the entrance requirements for a particular role I wanted to pursue in the military. Fast forward to 2009, and I was faced with a big decision. Continue with my military commission for a further 8 years or do something different.
By chance, an advert for ‘Future Leaders’, an accelerated headship programme for the UK’s urban state schools, popped up on my screen, but I dismissed it not thinking I was the right fit for the challenge. Then the ‘lightbulb’ moment came in my final tour of duty when I was asked to carry out an investigation into basic recruit training. It was here that I witnessed first-hand how the military was transforming young people, often failed by 14 years of formal education, into principled driven soldiers, in little more than two months of training.
What could be learned from these programmes and could the principles of character development be put into our toughest schools to help those most in need? As a result, I resigned from my commission and joined the Future Leaders programme later that year.
The Problem: Education 1.0
It was immediately apparent on the first day in my new role as a school leader that something had gone wrong, drastically wrong. Having just left the ‘character factory’ of the Royal Air Force as a Flight Lieutenant and, on stepping back into the world of formal schooling, urban schooling at its worst, what I discovered was nothing less than a ‘sausage factory’, a world in which, by increments, our schools had been transformed into a mechanized industry, taking in children full of potential and promise, and letting them leave armed with qualifications and exam grades that were often meaningless and detrimental to that child’s future prospects. Where and why had all of this come about I began to wonder, and had this level of thinking even infiltrated our families, communities and businesses?
Despite what the science is telling us, despite revolutionary writers and thinking increasingly challenging centuries-old norms of what makes us ‘good’ or ‘bad’, I observed that year a stubborn and systemic refusal to see the problem staring us in the face. The consequence, children transformed from curious to cautious, switched on to turned off and motivated to helpless over the course of their school years. My first lesson in this, exactly 15 minutes into my first day on the senior leadership team of an urban school serving a local community of high challenge, was being told to ‘F Off’ by a 13 year old boy wearing a hoodie and with his shirt hanging out. Something, I felt, had to change and quickly.
The Solution: Education 2.0
Aristotle once said that “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit”. Although written about some two millennia ago, the million dollar question I could not stop thinking about was whether there could ever be a character standard or code which people, all people for that matter, could relate to and follow? Could there be a way of instilling the right behaviours in our young so they possess the ability to repeatedly act in the right way; in fact more than that: the ability to make the right decisions at the right time in the right way when nobody is watching or telling us what to do – to follow a path of good character.
What if a school specialised in character and this permeated everything it did? What if a school framed its very being around creating moments that would challenge the very character of its students?
For me, this realisation would be the start of Education 2.0.
The Power of Character
Through a series of fortunate events and chance acquaintances, I was given the unique opportunity to put into practice my thinking on the subject of character, by co-founding a new type of school, King’s Leadership Academy, ideas that had first started on joining the military in 2003 as a 23 year old officer recruit.
Fast forward 12 years, here I now was briefing an Education Minister on what Kings was doing to develop this ‘gift’ of character. The Minister’s private secretary would later tell me that these observations had been reflected upon with the country’s top business leaders. The topic – the character of our nation and what we could learn from King’s.
Dr Andew Reay
The contents of my new book The Power of Character: Lessons from the Frontline has been my small contribution toward the subject of character – and, in its own way, my hope is that it will help unlock some of its mystery for you.