Ark John Keats Academy (AJK) is an all-through school in Enfield educating 4-19-year-olds. The academy's primary phase opened in September 2013, and its secondary phase opened the following year. Olamide Ola-Said joined the school via Teach First in 2013, in its very first year, as a reception teacher, and as a founding member of the school. He is currently the Senior Vice-Principal. Having grown with the school, Olamide knows the school and the AJK team exceptionally well. He has built a deep knowledge of curriculum and teaching and established warm, positive relationships with the school community. In September, he becomes AJK’s Primary Headteacher, and he tells us about his passion for Early Years education and how Ark has helped develop his leadership skills.
Olamide’s story is part of our #ArkPeople series.
Journey into teaching
I got into teaching because I loved primary school when I was a child; some of my happiest memories are from the time I spent at the primary school I ended up at in the Midlands. It was a two-form village school, and there was such a strong sense of community and warmth. I don't think I was always the best-behaved child, but I loved to read and was continually challenged. I was the only black boy in the entire school, but I never felt different. My teachers were excellent. They knew so much and were so enthusiastic about learning and knowledge. They made me feel like I was part of a family, and it's time I will always look on with fondness.
I went to the University of Leicester, where I studied History and Politics but became very interested in working in TV production. I secretly aspired to present on something like Blue Peter!
During university, I met my wife, who didn't like the prospect of marrying someone who wouldn't have a very stable job and suggested that I look at teaching! I went to visit a few schools, and it rekindled my love for children and schools. The schools I visited also reminded me of the effect a good school has on an individual's life and how an excellently run school can be a real beacon for hope and joy in its community. I applied via Teach First, and I started my training in the same year that AJK opened.
I specifically chose to work within Early Years. If we want to affect long-lasting change within the pupils we serve, we'll reap the rewards by focussing on the early years. As a Vice-Principal, I have the pleasure of going into many classrooms and walking into a well-organised reception or nursery classroom always takes my breath away. Now I'm a father; I am even more convinced of the value of early education! I also think that it's fertile ground to establish fantastic relationships with parents and acquire that buy-in that is sorely needed as early as possible.
Being part of a school being built from the ground up is an experience like no other. It pushed and uniquely challenged me, and I believe it acted as a training ground for my future headship. We were a small but very focused group. We had a lot to do, a lot to learn, but we did it.
As a young black male reception teacher, I didn't see myself in my peers, and as an older black male primary school leader, I don't see myself at all. That's something that fundamentally needs to change. However, I believe in sustainable impact, and I feel real success is defined by longevity. Pupils need to see themselves within the profession that they engage with every day. I believe teaching is an aspirational profession, and I'm incredibly proud to be one of several young heads in the network and one from a BAME background. We should celebrate this, but I know we still have a long road ahead to achieve equitable and sustained representation.
Being part of the Ark network has been incredibly beneficial to my development over the years, from visiting other Ark schools as a teacher to attending leadership programmes like LEAD as a Vice-Principal. I believe Ark is an organisation that endeavours to make itself 'teacher centred'; teacher development, teacher growth, and retention is so important as we know that it is our teachers that will make the biggest difference to the life chances of the children and families that we work for. We must continue to talk about teaching as an intellectually stimulating and sustainable profession to reach the highest heights.
I don't think my career would've accelerated the way it has if there wasn't room to grow. In a growing school, there was always a new challenge or opportunity for me. I started as a reception teacher, moved to Head of Reception, Head of Early Years, an Assistant Principal for Early Years, Assistant Principal for Teaching and Learning, Vice-Principal for Teaching, Learning and Curriculum, Senior Vice-Principal for Teaching, Learning Curriculum and soon Head of Primary. That kind of trajectory is rare. Even though I've always worked extremely hard, I fundamentally believe in the importance of aligning oneself to the values and purpose of the organisation you choose to work for. I have seen this school rise and have a clear vision of where this school could be. I want the school to be a beacon for this community. I want the pupils who come here to be literate, articulate, and numerate. I want them to experience things and know many things, so they are enabled to do what they want to do in life without barriers.
I want our pupils to be secure and feel like they are part of a family, to feel they are loved and appreciated at this school and that their teachers are for them and want them to be successful. I want our parents to feel knowledgeable about child development and what they should expect from their children, so they can support them through their school career.