Sylvia Jones, Principal of UCL Academy: "Everyone will be a learner"
23 March 2010
When the UCL Academy opens its doors in September to students in September 2011, Sylvia Jones will be at the helm.
Here she tells us about her hopes and plans for the school - and the day that made her want to become a teacher.
Q: Why did you want to become a teacher?
I've always really enjoyed working with young people, and I think I've got a talent for enthusing them. As a teacher I really enjoyed explaining my subject to young people and watching them gain in confidence - I just find it very rewarding.
I'm a devotee of the state sector - I've always worked in comprehensive schools, despite my own traditional girls' school education, and both my own children have attended state comprehensives - because I want to encourage children of all abilities and backgrounds to do well. I believe if you have high expectations of people, they will almost always do better than previously anticipated. Often children will surprise you.
I'd always actually thought I'd go into the law, and I was quite far into the process of applying for a postgraduate law course, when a friend of mine who was going into teaching decided to attend a day for prospective teachers at a school, and I went along for the ride. That day changed my life - it was a primary in quite a challenging area of the Isle of Dogs and I very much enjoyed interacting with the students, and at that moment I thought 'I've found what I want to do'.
Q: At your previous school you were named a National Leader for Education - what does this entail?
National Leader for Education is a status awarded by the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services. Each year the College accredits a small number of headteachers, of primary and secondary schools, who run outstanding schools, and we're trained by the College to offer support to other schools. I've been directly involved in inducting and supporting new headteachers, and I've worked on the 'gaining ground' programme, which supports heads looking to make faster progress with their schools. It's all about working with heads of schools, supporting them in a very practical way.
Q: What will your experience as head of a training school help you bring to your new role?
My previous school (Valentines High in Redbridge, East London) has been a training school since 2006. It's not just about training our own staff, but those from far and wide, on a variety of programmes. I hope to put that experience into practice at UCL Academy, supporting and working with a network of schools. It's a two-way process: you can always learn something from the schools you are working with.
It's also about promoting the professional development of our own staff, encouraging them to share best practice, seek accreditation, and take part in action research. I want to put training at the centre of what we're doing - everyone in the Academy will be a learner.
Q: Are there specific challenges to being a head in London?
I've been working in London for a long time: this is my 26th year. There are some very specific challenges of working in a London school. There's often a misunderstanding about standards in London schools: people often don't acknowledge that they are very high and often higher than elsewhere in the country. One challenge will be to maintain those standards, and to get that message across.
You often have situations where there's volatility in student numbers, because London is an area that has a very fluid population. Another challenge will be to make sure that we offer a high-quality education to a potentially changing population. I want us to provide a safe, supportive, challenging and interesting educational environment for a culturally mixed group of students.
Young people in London sometimes don't have strong community support, so the school community is very important. I want the Academy to be a hub for the community - a real resource for them.
Q: How can UCL students and staff help you to ensure that the most promising Academy students make the transition to university?
I would love UCL students and staff to be involved with all students at the Academy. I'm hoping that the university staff will provide information, support and professional advice to the Academy staff. There will also be opportunities for students at UCL to gain experience of working with secondary-age students in a variety of settings - as a mentor, or taking part in extracurricular activities - and I'm interested in seeking accreditation for the UCL students who do this. I also hope there will be opportunities for Academy students to visit the university.
Image: Sylvia Jones
If you are a member of the UCL community and interested in being
involved in Sylvia's plans for the Academy, contact Clare Goudy in the Office of the Vice-Provost (Academic and International).
The UCL Academy will be a mixed 11-18 comprehensive school, which will open on Adelaide Road in Swiss Cottage in 2011. The school will specialise in science and mathematics, and will enjoy close links with the university, which is acting as sole sponsor.