By Rob Reynolds, Director of External Relations
Bedales was lucky enough to hear this week from Tony Hartney CBE, Headteacher of Gladesmore Community School, Tottenham, who gave a Civics talk in the Lupton Hall to students, staff, parents and local people.
Gladesmore serves a community with high levels of economic disadvantage. Families face numerous challenges in their daily lives and the children typically display low self-esteem and start school with reading levels well below their chronological age. The school is a ten-form entry, mixed secondary community school, with a rich diversity of cultures and languages.
Tony explained how his own up-bringing has shaped his career and educational approach. His mother died when he was 10 after he had been caring for her; because of this, he was denied the opportunity to apply for grammar school. Instead, he attended the secondary modern where he was frequently caned and denied any opportunities to better himself. This, he says, made him “cry inside, but I never showed it”.
Tony’s education proved to be a defining period for him, deciding that he wanted to offer disadvantaged children better experiences of education than his own. He not only wanted to teach, but he set out to be a headteacher where he thought he would be able to exert sufficient influence to change people’s lives.
He threw himself wholeheartedly at his chosen career, volunteering for everything and working his way up through the teaching ranks.
When Tony took over as Head of Gladesmore in 1999, the school struggled to keep staff, only 4% of students passed GCSE English and Maths, and in the first week his deputy was assaulted by students. Tony looked beyond this and the deprivation of the many sink estates to see wonderful people. He felt they just needed some hope and confidence to be successful. This attitude has informed his approach ever since – relentless positivity and striving to build a community spirit.
Fast forward 22 years and there has been a complete transformation in culture and much positive recognition: an outstanding school, a strong school community, many role models in the student and staff body, excellent relations with the Police, and strong external partnerships such as their selection as a football Premier League flagship school.
Tony talked of the benefit of offering his students opportunities to attend boarding schools for Sixth Form. He now places around 20 students per year in a range of independent schools, including Bedales. He is a strong advocate of this approach which he sees as successfully instilling confidence and belief in young people. He described Bedales as “a total life-changing opportunity.”
Having now established the scheme, Tony invites students back – a virtuous circle of role models, inspiring younger students to believe they can also be part of such a scheme.
Hearing about the challenges facing Gladesmore students, and the transformational impact provided by boarding school bursaries, has given us at Bedales additional impetus to expand Bedales’ provision. The John Badley Foundation (JBF) was established by the school 10 years ago to be more ambitious with bursaries, and provide life-enhancing opportunities for young people who would not be able to consider such an education without full support. To date it has funded 20 pupils who have joined Dunhurst or Bedales. With the support of members of the school community, the JBF has ambitions to grow to help more students, so that by 2024 there will be two fully funded pupils in every year group from Block 1 upwards.
We are very grateful to Tony for visiting Bedales and talking so passionately about social mobility and his work to ease education inequality. We are looking forward to strengthening our relationship with Gladesmore so that we can continue to learn from each other as institutions, and assist Tony in his mission to provide life-changing opportunities for the young people of Tottenham.