Issue 129 - 2023 Autumn term
Trust CEO John Camp OBE says becoming ASCL President is one of the proudest moments of his career. Here, he shares his love of education and his mission to ensure that interconnection is at the heart of his year in office.

Interconnected leadership

John Camp OBE
ASCL President and CEO, The Compass Partnership of Schools
I began my teaching career in 1991 in Rotherhithe, South East London in a school that was led by a superb headteacher, Norna Moses. It was the conversations I had with Norna that gave me the confidence to seize opportunities as they arose and take on responsibility beyond the classroom. Norna recruited me as a probationary teacher and appointed me to my first leadership positions. I became a deputy head in 2001 and a headteacher in 2008. Over the next seven years, I was fortunate to work with our local authority to build a soft federation of seven maintained schools focused on collaboration for school improvement – it is this group that then formed the muti-academy trust of which I am now CEO.

I loved school as a child, and I loved learning. Teachers were heroes to me. It is because of the teachers who taught me that I am here today. From Gill Dove, my primary teacher who nurtured my love of all things creative, my A level sociology teacher Judith Mackin who developed my critical thinking, to my sixth form tutor who was instrumental in me going to university despite me planning to leave education at 18, I am eternally grateful to them.

I feel incredibly fortunate to be leading a trust of schools focused on providing the very best education for all children. Children are amazing. Their energy and vibrancy for life is infectious and keeps my own perspective on the future an optimistic one. It is a great honour to serve communities and to help ensure they have a great school at their heart – I can’t think of anything else I would rather be doing. Education is a beautiful thing. Its potential to empower and liberate keeps me focused on ensuring we meet the needs of all learners and especially those who face barriers to access and engagement – this energises me.

Humble beginnings 

My drive and ambitions are anchored in my beginnings. My mum had left school at the age of 14 despite passing the 11 plus, because the imperative in her family was to earn a wage to support the family income. She was raised with five siblings in a two-roomed flat in a local authority block and shared a toilet and washroom facilities with three other families.

I think her sense of frustration at not being able to go further in education manifested itself in a commitment to my own education. She made it clear that I should do well, and I felt a deep sense of responsibility to ensure I did. But the difference for me was that the state provided additional resource to help me on the journey and mitigate the impact of living in a low-income household. I received free school meals, school uniform grants, school journey grants and a sixth form grant. This made a huge difference – it ensured that continuing in education was not a question of family versus school and enabled the two spheres of my life to coexist without compromising either one. It is this difference between my mum’s experience and mine that drives me today.

Children themselves are not disadvantaged. They are disadvantaged by context and context can be shaped; it just takes political will, ambitious policymaking and resource. We will not close the disadvantage gap in schools alone. The disadvantage gap requires a system response – disadvantage is an outcome of context not a personal choice or characteristic.

Dream team 

I lead as a part of a team – it is every member of the team that powers our vision and realises our aspirations for young people. In leadership, I have always been driven by a determination to ensure that all children have access to an excellent education and that we nurture the belief in each child that they can learn, thrive and be positive agents of change in the world. I aim to be the leader people need me to be – to find and nurture talent in others and give people the space to be.

In the words of Apple’s Steve Jobs, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” I am lucky to work in a group of schools that have the most amazing teams of people who realise the vision we have for children every day. Our vision is for an education that has depth and breadth, and is intellectually, emotionally and physically rewarding so that young people thrive and develop the confidence to shape the world around them.

Making connections  

I joined ASCL when it opened up to primary members and was motivated by the work it was doing on the first blueprint. ASCL’s vision for the future was inspiring and I could see that it was helping to shape the system and support leaders in taking control. Becoming ASCL President is one of the proudest moments of my career. I feel a sense of immense responsibility in representing nearly 25,000 ASCL members from across education. My theme for the year is focused on interconnection: 
  • connection between the past and the present so that we can better shape the future 
  • connection across the whole of ASCL UK to build on our collective strengths  
  • connection across sectors so that the unique sector challenges are understood and elevated  
  • connection beyond education; as I firmly believe that schools alone cannot close the disadvantaged gap, it requires a system response 
Diversity is our strength. It is the strength of our system, and it is the strength of ASCL. All voices contributing to the national conversation is the most effective way of ensuring policy and strategy have impact and address the challenges that transcend sectors. 

Hear from John at our Annual Conference in March – book your place at  

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