Published in News Features
Growing up on an estate in West London, I saw very talented people around me who, despite their potential, did not succeed. I left my career as a professional footballer and retrained as a teacher, to help break this cycle.
Recently, I was approached by the BBC to take part in their upcoming documentary, Will Britain Ever Have a Black Prime Minister?. When first posed with their question, my instinctive response was "of course!", but it is not as simple as wishing it making it so.
I am hopeful that it will happen, but impatient about when, and as an educator, I understand the role I play in helping to make it happen sooner, rather than later.
In the UK's top professions, such as law, medicine and high finance, there is a disproportionate number of privately educated people compared to the general population. Just 7 per cent of the country attended an independent school, whilst 71 per cent of senior judges did.
It is crucial that we broaden access of black and minority ethnic (BME) young people to elite universities and professions. Better representation will increase public confidence in our political and legal systems as well as improve the credibility of political, public sector and private sector leaders.
The professions and leading institutions are missing out on the unique insight and talent that real diversity can bring. If tapped into, this leads to better policy making and smarter business decisions.
But to make this possible, we need to level the playing field. That means providing a great education for every young person, working to raise aspiration, and ensuring that our young people have the cultural capital and access of their more affluent peers.
I believe that the professions could do much more in terms of mentoring and recruiting young black people and they need to work more closely with schools and colleges to offer work-based experiences and professional workshops, to expose more black students to the cultural and social norms prevalent in their institutions.
That is why Ark Globe Academy helped to introduce the 'Professional Pathway programme', where A-Level students are given the chance to combine study and practical work experience with businesses such as Bloomberg, CapGemini and Lloyds Banking Group.
They also learn skills such as CV writing and how to conduct yourself in a professional interview. A highlight of the programme is when our sixth form students plan, market and host a networking event with over 100 businesses in the school.
We also take our students to visit great universities from the age of 11 to show them what they are working towards. We measure our success not just by GCSE scores but by how many of our students have gone into Russell Group universities.
Our school is a short walk from Elephant and Castle in London and our largest group of students are of Black African, Black Caribbean and Bangladeshi heritages. Fifty-six per cent of our students are on free school meals and nearly 40 per cent speak English as an additional language. But on any given day, if you walk around our school, you will find aspiring lawyers, astrophysicists, poets and playwrights and even one or two future Prime Ministers.
It is not just the front benches and the boardrooms where this is a problem - it is even an issue in our classrooms. there are over 3,000 secondary schools in England, yet I am one of only 15 black, male headteachers.
I am hopeful that we will see a black Prime Minister one day, but that will only happen if we truly open up our professions to every capable young person, regardless of their background. I am doing all that I can to ensure that the first black Prime Minister comes from Ark Globe Academy.
About the author
Matt Jones is Principal at Ark Globe Academy in Elephant & Castle, South London and featured in the BBC Documentary 'Will Britain Ever Have a Black Prime Minister?'