Charlie Kennard is a Teach First ambassador, having joined the programme in 2008 to teach History in the West Midlands. He is now Founder and Principal of East London Academy of Music.
I spent two years as a Teach First participant, worked within the charity as a recruiter for Scottish universities, and spent two years overseas setting up Teach For Malaysia and travelling as a network partner. At every stage it’s just been the most fantastic leadership development experience. Lots of my peers from university have gone into the private sector and, while they are enjoying successful careers, they’d be the first to accept that their experience hasn’t come close to mine for responsibility, influence or impact. You have huge autonomy as a teacher. You’re effectively managing 30 people five times a day, and each day throws up new situations and different challenges.
Both here in the UK and in Malaysia I’ve been exposed to the most amazing people – people who could rise to the top of any organisation. Their passion and energy and their positivity rub off on you. I’ve enjoyed incredible opportunities and been mentored by some genuinely inspiring people.
With a loose plan to go into consulting, I tagged along with a friend to a Teach First presentation and came out blown away by the idea. It just seemed so exciting – an opportunity for adventure at the same time as making such a difference. I also liked the idea that I wasn’t closing any doors – I would actually be adding to my skills and employability with a really well respected brand. It’s no exaggeration to say that that one-hour presentation changed the course of my life.
Through the two years as a teacher I fell in love with working with students. Now I’m the principal at the East London Academy of Music. We’re offering young people from disadvantaged communities a quality vocational education focusing on the music industry, from writing and performing to production and management. The idea came from a conversation with my brother, who is a successful musician and producer – one half of Chase & Status – about how we both knew people who were so talented but who would never break through into the music industry without the right education and connections.
After years of planning we opened in 2014 as a creative arts school for 16 to 19 year olds offering a BTEC Level 3 education, which means that everyone continues to study English and maths and gains UCAS points. We have support and funding from around 90 companies – it’s a real partnership between education and industry – and a fantastic board, including the former director of music at The Brit School. Our intake is very mixed but it includes rappers from East London who would never previously have been offered a Level 3 qualification.
We want to change people’s perceptions of vocational education by showing how exciting and valuable it can be, and we want to develop the next generation of leaders for the music industry in the UK, as well as new artists and producers. I couldn’t have done any of this without the experience I gained through Teach First. I took a chance seven years ago and it’s paid off massively.
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