Saqib Chaudhri grew up in Thornton Heath and went to Ingram High School in the 90s which was labelled one of the 18 worst schools in Britain.
He left there with no GCSEs and no hope. Now he is a headteacher of a school in Croydon and hopes telling his remarkable story will empower the next generation.
Growing up in a working class family in the 80s and 90s in Thornton Heath wasn’t easy, what made it even harder for children like me at the time was the poor standard of schools in the area. A number of schools had been placed on the “government red list” for proposed closure.
School for was me was a miserable time in my life, during primary school I can remember being in trouble more often than not, either being sent to stand outside the classroom or to the Headteachers office where often I was left to my own devices.
For secondary school my immigrant parents sent me to the nearest school to our home in Parchmore, unbeknown to them Ingram High School for Boys was earmarked by the Conservative government at the time as one of the worst schools in the country.
My days at Ingram were filled with mostly poor teaching and a remarkable admiration for those teachers who planned and delivered lessons that engaged some of the most difficult to reach children. Although never a child to get many detentions, what I also rarely received at Ingram was a quality of teaching that would enable me to be socially mobile and move out of the trappings of poverty that I found myself in at such an early age.
Through those years I became acutely aware of the poor education and social norms I was being exposed to and more and more I became disengaged with the school and finished Year 11 with little else but a feeling of having been failed and being a failure.
I was fortunate enough at the time to have a family that truly cared and believed in my potential. My mother and sister decided that the best intervention for me at this juncture in my life was to remove me from South London and we moved to Burnley in Lancashire where we had family.
Here, in the rural town my father first came into in the 1950s when he emigrated from Pakistan, I enrolled into a college and retook my GCSEs.
Not only did I find the lessons fun and the learning challenging but I also began to grow in confidence, finding not only that I had a knack for learning but also that I had an inquisitive mind that craved knowledge.
I very quickly fell in love with my A Level subjects of Physics, Computing and more so with Sociology which lit a fire in me to change society so that others didn’t have to suffer the same disadvantage I experience at such an early age.
Fast forward the story to 2021 and I have just completed my first year of the headship at Oasis Academy Shirley Park Secondary and Sixth Form.
In the past three years since I have been there the school has achieved GCSE results in the top 17 per cent of the country and sixth form results that place us in the top one per cent of all sixth forms nationally.
As a school we serve that very same community that I grew up in. Last year we celebrated our first ever student to be admitted to Cambridge University and I am determined to make our school a beacon of hope and aspiration, especially in the times we live in today where social disadvantage and political discord are so tumultuous.
As much as I look back at my childhood as wasted years, they give me drive and energy to ensure that no child under my care will ever have to suffer the disadvantage that I did.
Although we exist in hard times today, as a school community we have banded together and whether our families needed food parcels delivered or help with getting free internet – we have been there for them. Over 90 per cent of our children attend our online learning provision and we still have over 50 children attending our school site each day who need us the most.
I hope that in time, my story of being upwardly socially mobile and breaking that shackles of disadvantage won’t be a news worthy tale but instead the norm for the children of Croydon, ultimately if we want our world to become a better place, we must empower the next generation to take us there.