Educating Drew: The Real Story of Harrop Fold School [Review]

‘Educating..’ stars; Mr Povey, Mr Featherstone, Jack and Rani, and the Events Northern team.

One of the best things about being lucky enough to get some time off over the Christmas and New Year break is that I get the chance to catch up on some well over-due reading!

There were quite a few books in the ‘To-Be-Read’ pile but the first one I devoured was Educating Drew: The Real Story of Harrop Fold School, by current Headteacher, Drew Povey.

Events Northern have been lucky enough to work with Mr Povey on a couple of different projects over the past few years, as well as having had Harrop Fold students join us at a couple of the education-sector based conferences we have been involved in. Drew has always spoken extremely passionately about Harrop Fold School and for that reason, I was particularly interested to hear about the TV series coming to Channel 4, and I had my book on pre-order with Amazon before it was released!

Harrop Fold is the latest school to place itself under the spotlight for the ‘Educating…’ series produced by Channel 4. The premise of the show is to put hundreds of cameras in place in a school, from the beginning of the academic year in September, right the way through to Results Day in August. They capture the everyday happenings of British high school life.  Instead of just solely concentrating on classroom content, it is often the moments that occur on the corridors, in the staff rooms and offices that become the water-cooler highlights for viewers.

Mr Povey’s accompanying publication tells the story that you don’t see on screen, filling in the gaps of both his and the school’s history. The book focuses on the story of the school, and how Harrop Fold has come to be in the difficult situation in which it finds itself.

Educating Drew: The Real Story of Harrop Fold by Drew Povey

It wouldn’t be too much of a spoiler alert to tell you that at the time when Drew Povey took over as what he describes as the ‘Unexpected Headteacher’, the school was in £3 million of inherited debt. This amount is absolutely unprecedented for any teaching establishment and puts Harrop Fold in a truly unique situation, that no-one really seems to know the best way of getting out of.

Educating Drew shares the story of the three Brothers Povey; Drew, Ross and Ben, all which now have their own particular role in #TeamHarrop. It starts at the very beginning, with an insight into childhood with the Povey’s (Which sounds as cheeky and troublesome as you could expect from 3 brothers growing up!) The chapters go on to cover the career path of all three, including both sporting and musical highlights (Ah, what could have been!) and culminates in the eventual coming together of the Povey’s at Harrop Fold. Perhaps it is the unique relationship (unfaltering honesty, boundary pushing mockery, and unquestionable dedication) that only siblings can have that has rubbed off on those around them and helped #TeamHarrop become the community it is today. It must be noted however that Drew makes it clear throughout the book that it is not just the success of himself and his brothers alone that has helped change the culture at Harrop Fold:

‘So Harrop Fold isn’t the story of three brothers. It’s the story of how three brothers – and thousands of others turned around a school.’

Extract from Educating Drew by Drew Povey

It is this ‘all-in-this-together’ spirit that comes across right the way through the book. The focus on building a tight-knit staffing body with everyone singing from the same hymn sheet seems to play a large part in Harrop Folds turnaround success. Mr Povey’s open minded approach to learning and leadership is also perhaps a key factor in encouraging the pride and passion that seems to be part of every member of staff at the school. Always ready to listen to a new idea, or theory or approach, Mr Povey draws on a wide and varied body of inspiration and motivation. The book quotes everyone from Winston Churchill to Will Smith, and just goes to prove that thinking creatively and taking inspiration from wherever, or whoever, it comes, is the way forward!

If his obvious knack for leadership and passion for continuous development aren’t enough of a giveaway that he his quite clearly headteacher material, Mr Povey’s book is also peppered throughout with tell-tale signs of his job role. Being able to drop an appropriate Aesop’s Fable at a moment’s notice to being a secret (or not-so secret!) musical performer have to be part of the mandatory skill set for any Head Teacher vacancy.  From what I can remember of the headteachers of my past, these are both absolute must-haves for any weekly assembly!

One of the closing chapters of the book sees Mr Povey explain how he was never a gambling man, until he found out about the school’s debt:

‘I never played the lottery until I found out about the debt at Harrop Fold. I play it every Saturday now. If I won the money, I’d pay off the school debt and carry on working. That’s how much I care about this situation and how badly I want it wiped away.”

The TV series, the book deal, the weekly lottery ticket, these are but a few of the ways in which #TeamHarrop is thinking of unique ways in which it can pay off its debt.

Early last week it was great to hear Harrop Fold announce that the ‘Educating…’ cameras had signed on the dotted line to come back to Little Hulton to film not one, but two more series of the show. This is the first time that the ‘Educating…’ production team have returned to a school to follow its story, and obviously goes to prove that #TeamHarrop, and all its characters, dramas and drive, have had a huge impact on the viewing public. It’s brilliant to see that so many people now feel so invested in the community and its success, and fingers crossed, the publicity and promotion that another two television series will bring could be just what the school, staff and students need to clear that debt and continue to prosper. And who knows, perhaps Series 2 and 3 will also encourage the writing of books 2 and 3 as well. Maybe penned by Brothers Ross and Ben to get their take on the #TeamHarrop story. I know I for one will be watching the new series, and would get my pre-orders ready to go for any more Povey volumes.

Well done Mr Povey’s (Plural!), you are all doing a marvellous job! And well done to the further thousands that work with them. The story of the #TeamHarrop turnaround so far is a truly remarkable one, which could only have and will only continue to be achieved by truly remarkable people!

Rating: * * * * *  5 stars.

The ‘Educating’ series and accompanying book give a fascinating and rare insight into normal, everyday British high-school life. Series 1 of ‘Educating Greater Manchester’ can be found on All4 Catch Up and Educating Drew: The Story of Harrop Fold School by Drew Povey can be purchased from John Catt Publishing here.

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