Let's be the change

This article originally appeared in Leader magazine
Autumn Term 1 2022

Evelyn Forde, the first Black female President of ASCL, has made empowering leadership in others a key priority for her presidential theme.

Being a school leader is an immensely humbling experience and a great source of pride to me. I can serve my community, help bring about change and improve the life chances of the young people we serve. There is no better job in the world. 

I started teaching in 1999 and my first post was as a history teacher in a school in Tottenham, which I absolutely loved. After a couple of years, I realised I wanted to enter the world of school leadership, so I became a work experience coordinator then a head of year, taking one cohort through from Year 7 to Year 11. After that, I applied for the Future Leaders Programme, which eventually led to my first headship in 2015. 

Along the way, I was able to learn from others and hone my craft so that when I did become a Head, I would be ready. In fact, as I soon realised, nobody is ever ready for headship but because of the connections and relationships I had formed along the way, I knew I could draw on the support of others if ever I needed to. 

Bringing people with you 
I saw that leadership was about building relationships and being able to bring people with you, people who were aligned with your vision and believed that every child in every lesson every day should have a good school experience. It became my vision of what I wanted for the schools I would go on to lead. 

It was when I became Head of Copthall School in 2016 that I could really see the impact of change, what great teaching can achieve and how, if every child had a champion, then great things could happen. Being the Headteacher here is definitely my proudest achievement and our successes over the past six years have also meant personal growth and recognition for me. In 2020 I was awarded TES Headteacher of the Year, followed by an MBE in the New Year Honours list. To then be elected by my peers to be ASCL Vice President and this year’s President, is something I am still overwhelmed by. 

Why I chose ASCL 
I became a member of ASCL in 2008 when I took up my first senior leader position. I chose ASCL as the Association that was most aligned with my own vision of how young people and educators should be represented. It was absolutely the right decision to make because, over the years, ASCL has grown to a membership of more than 21,500 and is one of the leading voices engaging with ministers and the media, and using its influence to bring about change. 

ASCL also stands out for its commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), which was Rachael Warwick’s presidential theme in 2019/20. ASCL’s EDI strategy has enabled the Association to reflect on its own practices, internal and external, and to ensure its sphere of influence meets the needs of members. The three networks – Women’s, LGBT+ and Ethnic Diversity – have created groups of like-minded people who all believe passionately that minority voices must be heard. 

Paving the way for others 
I am the first Black female President of the Association, and it is absolutely massive for me and for those who look like me. Its significance cannot be over-estimated as I know that there will be others looking and thinking, “I, too, could achieve such a position.” It feels like I am paving the way for others to follow.The role of the President is to work with the Presidential Trio and ASCL’s leadership team to speak on behalf of members and act on behalf of children and young people, and it is this aspect of the work that I am really looking forward to. My presidential theme is ‘Stronger Together – Empowered Leadership’ and it will be this message that I intend to weave through ASCL’s work next year.

The system will face significant challenges as we build our campaign around spiralling energy costs, an unfunded pay award and the future of Ofsted, so it is ever more important that we work together, one voice with a clear message. Being empowered not to accept the status quo and to fight for what we believe is right for our school and young people will be vitally important.

I am also looking forward to ASCL Annual Conference where I intend to elevate the voices of the minoritised, including those of young people whose futures we need to secure. 

As a person of Ghanian descent, a proverb I often heard was, “It takes a village to raise a child” and that’s how I view the year ahead. Working together, empowering others and making the changes we all know we need to see in the system will ensure we do better by the young people we serve. 

ASCL’s stance on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) 
ASCL is committed to supporting and promoting EDI among school, college and trust leaders, and in our own organisation. On 10 June 2021, ASCL joined sector bodies and national associations to demonstrate our commitment to tackling issues related to EDI in education. Read our statement of action and commitments on EDI.

ASCL has put its work on EDI front and centre over the last three years and we continue to do so, as we outline in our 2022 Annual Report on ASCL’s Work on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. We are in the process of developing our EDI plan for 2022/23, building on our progress so far, and we would welcome input from members into this plan – please email TellUs@ascl.org.uk with the subject line ‘EDI’, to share your thoughts.  

Leaders’ Networks 
We have now established the ASCL Ethnic Diversity Network, the ASCL LGBT+ Leaders’ Network and the ASCL Women Leaders’ Network

To find out more, click on a link. To join any of our leaders’ networks and for an invitation to the next meeting, please contact CorporateAdmin@ascl.org.uk indicating the network you would like to join.  

Evelyn Forde
Head of Copthall School in Mill Hill, London, and ASCL President 2022/23

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