How character lifts us higher
How can a personal experience of deprivation shape a mission to improve the Character of a country? Racheal Smith explores this question.
I was born in Grimsby. Grimsby was voted one of the worst places to live in the country, with the researchers labelling it “backwards, cold and unfriendly.” While a little harsh, there is an insular attitude in Grimsby that leaves outsiders feeling excluded. There is a sense of hopelessness about the place too. Though I haven’t lived there since I was 23 and have not visited for more than 15 years, I see the comments from my nieces and nephews and realise it hasn’t moved on in the last two decades. It is still lost at the end of the M180.
While not all who live in Grimsby will feel this sense of deprivation or hopelessness, this portrait represents a commonly held attitude to the town.
Why is Grimsby the way it is? Well, it was once a thriving fishing community until fishing wasn’t really an industry that thrived anymore. Then, it became an area full of food processing factories – fish fingers being the new cuisine. But then this sector declined, and there is little left in terms of opportunity anymore. The loss of identity led to a loss of direction for a whole town.
There are many towns across the UK with a similar story. Whether it is a consequence of the loss of coal mining or the decline in manufacturing, many places require a bespoke level of Government support and intervention.
Why am I telling you this? What does it have to do with Entelechy Academy?
Well, it is a statement of my personal support for the Government’s levelling up agenda. There is much to be done to help areas such as Grimsby rise out of poverty. I don’t just mean financial poverty, but the poverty of opportunity and hope.
Reaching out across the country and seeing the unique problems communities face and resolving these place by place is a powerful approach. It might just work to reduce some of the disparity in social mobility that I have seen in my time in education.
What excites me most is that Ofsted uses this in its judgements of educational organisations. This means levelling up is rooted in learning from early years onwards, requiring facilitators to tailor their offer to the local area’s needs.
As I was once a secondary education teacher, I understand that shaping a unique educational offering for an area is fraught with challenges. The curriculum is the curriculum, and examinations must be passed. These are national qualifications and standards, so doing anything other than a standardised approach is counter to the key performance indicators of schools and colleges.
To get to the heart of a bespoke offer for different areas, you need to get into the distinct challenges faced by the local people. While the problems for Grimsby are related to the loss of fishing, there is also a gulf in skills and qualities required to attract new sectors to the area. It is not just a matter of making the area a hub for another industrial sector; it is about empowering the people of the area with the character needed to rise out of deprivation.
How can educators personalise the curriculum to help level up an area? This is where my work with Entelechy Academy feels so important. Educators can look to the character of the population and help them evolve qualities that will promote growth.
Grimsby needs to be more resilient to the rapidly changing world. There is also a need for more empathy and kindness towards outsiders, who might want to come in and bring new life to the area. There is a need for individual accountability for improving lives, placing the responsibility in the hands of the town’s people to be the difference required.
If I had been born in Cheltenham, Windsor, Glasgow or Mayfair, my understanding of what character-based development would be needed would be different. In some of these areas, being more humble might benefit the local community, being more open-minded, or demonstrating compassion.
There is an opportunity in developing the learner’s character in this commitment to levelling up. There is a chance to show how your school, college, university, or training provider is doing its bit to improve life in your local area.
Growing up in Grimsby, I knew it took me being responsible for my future and disciplined in my approach to education to break free of my heritage. It was not just that I was born in Grimsby but also into the poorer areas of the town. I was lucky to have a keen intelligence and an unusually high level of bloody-mindedness that has led to my position as the Head of Learning for such a wonderful organisation. But people need more than luck; we could do so much to make this evolution routine.
I am determined to play a part in this levelling up agenda, and I know that understanding the character of an area can help, and I believe that personalising the development of these areas based on character can empower the local community to be the solution. I am at the start of my journey to make this reality, and I look forward to reporting on my progress to map the character of the UK and help educators level up opportunities from the foundations up.