Yesterday I had the absolute privilege of visiting Deptford Green School in London to hear Bill Gates addressing students about his annual letter http://bit.ly/wINL46 as part of the Speakers for Schools initiative (http://www.speakers4schools.org/). For obvious reasons the visit was cloaked in secrecy and even the students sitting in the hall waiting for him to arrive did not know who exactly was coming apart from the fact that it was somebody really famous. As the introduction started one boy sitting near us turned round and said ‘It isn’t Bill Gates is it? As he and others realised who it was the excitement in the hall was palpable.
Deptford Green is an inner city school in a challenging area of London. As soon as you walk through the door you can tell that it is a school which passionately cares about the life chances of every student – a message enthusiastically confirmed by a parent governor who told me of her admiration for the staff and gratitude for the excellent education her child was receiving. The school has a highly developed programme of global education. A partner school in Uganda was on a live link to the event which was followed by a BBC World Service broadcast involving both of those schools and some others .
The event took place because one of the teachers had heard about Speakers for Schools and registered the school never dreaming that they would get someone as famous as Bill Gates. The Speakers for Schools project exists because Robert Peston - BBC Business Editor passionately believes that young people in state schools should have the opportunity to hear from role models just as their peers in independent schools do. Working with the Employer Education Task Force he made his brainchild a reality. ASCL is proud to be associated with this initiative.
As students from the school council eloquently and confidently introduced the speaker -talking about the 4Rs of resilience, relationships, responsibility and results - they embodied those qualities.
Gates spoke passionately and convincingly about his own life story and about the importance of taking responsibility for global issues describing the impressive achievements of the Bill Gates Foundation to eliminate diseases like polio and malaria and improve the life chances of people in the poorest countries. He demonstrated convincingly the link between improving agriculture and increasing access to education and life chances.
He told the students how much he had valued receiving their contributions and ideas. The students were obviously impressed and moved as I was by the way he almost casually explained that he had to give the money to his foundation; ‘otherwise I would have had more money than anyone else in the world.’ His sense of social responsibility is humbling and infectious.
This event was a glowing example of how a leading figure can be an inspiring role model to young people. The young people in this inner city school have been able to directly influence the content of his annual letter and the important work of his foundation. His visit sent out the resounding message to every student in the room that they can make a difference. They will remember this event for the rest of their lives. No league table measure will ever recognise educational experiences like this.