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'One cannot underestimate the value of a black principal'

NO LONGER OUT OF REACH: A record number of students from Brampton Manor have been offered places at either Oxford, pictured, or Cambridge

IF YOU are a black parent and you cannot afford to send your children to private school, the obvious resort is to send them back home for a good education.

But now there is another option – you can also send them to Brampton Manor in east London, where they can have as much chance (if not more) as any pupil in Britain (state or privately educated) to get an offer to study at Oxford or Cambridge University.

It’s true, and it’s amazing. Brampton Manor, in the poorest London borough (Newham), secured 40 Oxbridge places this year. Yes, 40! Put that into perspective – the former grammar school that I used to go to was lucky if it sent two pupils to Oxbridge, and you could guarantee that neither of them would be black.

My school was an openly racist school and was only interested in educating their black pupils to the standard of bus driver or bus conductor. The worst thing of all, is that when we told our parents how racist the school was, they refused to believe us.

It was that school experience that prompted me, when I was blessed with children, to send my daughters to private school, where I could have some control over their education and hold the school to account.

Believe me, it wasn’t easy. My and my wife had to scrimp and save, remortgage the house several times and do without holidays or new cars, and we hardly ate out at restaurants, which, let’s face it, for the black middle classes is virtually unheard of.

But we are at the end of that long and expensive journey. My wife and I have only one more term of school fees to go before we can eat lobster once more.

But, if I had my time again I would have sent my daughters to Brampton Manor, even though it would have meant that they would have to trek half way across London to get there. I don’t care. It’s a small price to pay for a decent education for your children.

So, what is Brampton Manor’s secret? Well, the first thing is that they have a black executive principal.

Even though the school plays this down (no mention of that at all in the press last week as the school celebrated its record number of Oxbridge offers), one cannot underestimate the value of a black principal. Even white folks know that, and certainly all the Asian students that are also doing well at the school get it.

A black head of a school in Britain is the equivalent of sending your children back home for the best private education money can buy in the tropics. Not just because of the nurture, but because we of the diaspora look at children as children and don’t act like we and them are friends. Dr Dayo Olukoshi OBE was the headmaster of the Brampton Manor – he is now the executive principal – and I have seen the glowing look on the faces of previous Oxbridge successes from the school when they talk about him.

He is their inspiration – or at least one of them. I have also heard reports that other teachers at the school (a particular science teacher especially) who are not necessarily black, who have also inspired in a way that no other teachers have inspired their young charges, who, remember, have come from diverse backgrounds and previously had experiences (not always positive) of school life and education.

Believe me, I have sat in a BBC studio and observed a former student from the school who is now at Oxford, having to look up at the ceiling to avoid tears streaming down her face, as she talked of how she was “saved” by a teacher at the school who saw something brilliant in her academically at a time when she was in a totally different headspace.

That’s what it takes from a school’s perspective to get the best from our children.

That’s all it takes. That’s not asking too much of a school is it? In fact, it’s the bare minimum when you consider all the nonsense our children will have to face when they step out of the school gates. It’s the bare minimum surely. But it doesn’t stop there. One other good thing about Brampton Manor is it doesn’t just base its admissions on the students who want to work hard with their studies, but also on the parents of the children. Show me the parent and I’ll tell you whether the child is going to do well at school or not.

I don’t care how bright the child is. One of the brightest guys I went to school with ended up not taking any exams, and when we were all going off to university, he went off to prison for a life sentence for murder, at the age of seventeen. It’s all about the parents.

It’s time to stop making excuses and start analysing the parents. Frankly, I want to know who you are as parents before my children befriend your children. No disrespect to your children, but if you, the parent, are not coming correct, I don’t want to know. I don’t judge you on your past, but on your present and your ambition for your children. Because you pass that on to your children and they pick it up. Right now, for example, my older daughter is at the British Library studying. I haven’t told her to. It’s her study break from university after all. I haven’t said a word to her about how much effort she must put in to get a great degree from her top university.

But I think the effort me and her mother have put into her education is now registering with her, and she wants, of her own volition, to ensure that it is not wasted. That kind of attitude is not one that you get overnight. Far from it. It has taken her entire lifetime.

From the moment she came out of the womb (and yes, I was present) it was all “education, education, education”. That is the one thing that separates me and my brothers from the vast number of our peer group (black and white). We didn’t appreciate it at the time when my father had five sons all at university at the same time, but that is what has enabled us to survive this racist society that we live in.

Well done, Brampton Manor. Well done, Dr Dayo Olukoshi, OBE. Well done all the pupils of this excellent school – Britain’s best, in my eyes. But most of all, well done you parents of pupils at Brampton Manor.

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