We were honoured to have Sir David Carter attend the University of Buckingham’s Graduation Ceremony last week and, for those who were unable to attend, he has been kind enough to allow us to share an inspirational speech.
Good afternoon distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, and a special warm welcome to those of here to celebrate your academic success. It is a pleasure to attend this special occasion and to be able to share in your celebrations today. I also want to thank the University for inviting me to share this experience with you.
I was born in 1959 in Cardiff in South Wales. My mum was a Human Resources professional, and my Dad was a musician. I enjoyed school, but even more so when I knew I had music or sport to look forward to that day.
I was the first person from my family to go to university. I graduated from Royal Holloway College, University of London in 1982 and, having decided that I wanted to train as a music teacher, successfully applied to undertake my teacher training at the Institute of Education in London and started in September 1982.
The course was excellent and was a fantastic preparation for teaching music in a secondary school. I had two very different schools allocated to me for my teaching placements and I left to start my career knowing that I had a rich supply of skills, ideas and resources to call upon. In spite of enjoying the course very much, it was not all straightforward. As a young man and inexperienced teacher, like many others before me, I made mistakes. I remember leaving a bag full of recorders on the number 46 bus to Camden and I remember trying to persuade a very street-wise group of 14 year old girls in Hackney that they really did want to sing Folk songs about life as a blacksmith in Ireland. The memory of both incidents continues to linger in my mind!
After I had been teaching for three years, I studied for a Masters degree in Music Education, which I completed in 1988. This was my first serious higher degree learning experience and it was a challenge and a stretch completing it part time but was a reminder that has stayed with me for 30 years of the value of continuing to take responsibility for my own professional development. The two years that I studied for my MA, the regular Monday evening sessions and journeys into central London became my thinking time, and the experience underpinned so much of what I went on to do.
30 years after that first experience, I talk to you this afternoon as the National Schools Commissioner for England. This for me is the job my training and my career has been preparing me for. After my early experiences as a music teacher, I became a head teacher, a CEO over 12 academies in Bristol, the first Regional Schools Commissioner for the South West and in January this year, was appointed to become the National Schools commissioner.
All of the experiences I have enjoyed throughout my career have helped to inform my thinking about what great schools could be like. My role today is to challenge our schools across the country to be not just the best they can be, but to help others who still have a journey to make. Collaboration is the oxygen of improvement in the public sector. In my view, education is the most important of the public sector industries, as it enables us to develop a generation of young adults who are well educated, compassionate, understanding of difference and willing to put the needs of the most vulnerable at the heart of every decision they make.
Preparing for the graduation has enabled me to go back in time and reflect on the lessons that I have learned that might be worth describing today.
When I was in my early 20’s, trying to anticipate the challenges of the future, I realised that reflection was not a skill that came easily to me. But if there was one thing I wish someone had been able to tell my younger self all those years ago, it would have been this:
(that) You will learn more from the things that you get wrong and agonise over, than you will from the things that you get right and celebrate.
In my early days in teaching, I spent too long searching for perfection. The perfect lesson, delivered to perfectly behaved children, by a perfectly brilliant teacher – And life is simply not like that.
This afternoon is a special event for all of you, and I applaud and congratulate you on your determination and your quality which have combined to bring you your success. You should also take a moment to thank your family and friends for being there for you when the journey is bumpy as it will be at times in the future.
As you move on to the next stage of your life, make sure you keep a small space in your busy schedule to remain connected with the people who taught you, as well as those who you have learned alongside. I still get genuinely excited when a former student I have taught tracks me down on Twitter, and tells me what they have done. I look at their photograph and see the 14 year old I remember hidden inside the face of the 40 year old looking back at me. I know then that I played a part in their development, in the same way that your teachers, colleagues, family and friends will have done with you.
For those of you already and aspiring to senior leadership roles in our school system I both thank and congratulate you. There is no greater contribution you could make than to lead your schools and their communities so that the potential of young people can be developed and delivered. My happiest memories are of the years I lead my schools and Multi Academy Trust and if I learned one thing that I would share today it is this. Never forget how much influence you have. You may have 150 conversations on any given day but the people you talk to only have one with you and you need to make it count. Encourage them, support them, congratulate them, ask them about their families but above all else be an empathetic leader. Through empathy comes authenticity and through authenticity comes followship.
It has been a delight to share this most important afternoon with you. Please accept my sincere congratulations and best wishes for the next stage of your career and carry on being lifelong learners.