January 2011


  • A return to austerity?
    The ultimate impact on the education system of the Coalition’s reforms won’t be clear for some years, but there are some immediate financial implications which schools and colleges need to grasp, says Sam Ellis. More
  • Golden opportunities
    One of the UK’s Olympic greats is ensuring the 2012 legacy for young people will consist of more than stadia and facilities in London. David Hemery talks to John Holt about his challenge to capture young hearts and minds by providing the ultimate ‘win-learn situation’. More
  • Collective communication
    The death of a student amid sectarian violence brought headteachers in Ballymena together in 2006. They have gone on to create a formal learning community arrangement across the curriculum as well as the community, says Frank Cassidy. More
  • Make a meal of it
    They were initially reluctant but now parents are flocking to The Ridgeway School’s cooking workshops to spend quality time with their children. For the school, meanwhile, it is one step on the road to narrowing the inequalities gap, explains Rosemary Cairns. More
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One of the UK’s Olympic greats is ensuring the 2012 legacy for young people will consist of more than stadia and facilities in London. David Hemery talks to John Holt about his challenge to capture young hearts and minds by providing the ultimate ‘win-learn situation’.

Golden opportunities

David Hemery CBE – Olympic champion and world record breaker, multi-medal holder and much-decorated motivator and mentor – exudes get up and go from every pore.

So when fellow high-achiever Seb Coe needed someone to hit the ground running for a London 2012 legacy p project specififically aimed at developing and inspiring young hearts and minds across the country, he knew where to turn.

Readily accepting the challenge, David, best known for his breathtaking 400m hurdles win as a 24-year-old at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, soon faced his first major obstacle. From the overall £9.3 billion budget, his project was to receive...precisely nothing.

Thus it was that the 21st Century Legacy charity was established and David took his years of sports and business coaching experience into schools to encourage youngsters to excel sprinkling what he terms “a little Olympic stardust”. (See right)

“This is not just about sport; we are stimulating them into living their dreams whether they want to be vets, magicians or pilots,” he says.

Inspirational visit

The project arranges professional development sessions to fully prepare teachers to make the most of an inspirational visit from leading sports personalities such as javelin champion Steve Backley, sprinter Darren Campbell and rower Katherine Grainger.

The ranks of the great and good also include people such as Danny Crates, a former rugby player who – after losing an arm in a car crash – became a successful runner.

“In his session, Danny talks about the depression, anger and loss he suffered and how he eventually got a grip on his life. He then describes how his success, like any other successful person, is down to hard work and receiving positive support.

“For a young person, that support may be as simple as knowing who to ask for help and advice,” adds David, who has himself been inspired by what he has seen and heard in the classroom.

“At one session, one young girl said her goal had been to teach her deaf brother how to handle his anger. He signed at home but became very violent outdoors because he couldn’t communicate properly.

“She described how she had successfully helped him to control himself so that one day they all went to the park as a family for the first time. That was truly heart-warming.”

Every young person has something to offer, he says. “It’s beneficial to make a contribution to your class, your team, at home or in the community. We’re here to help young people find out what that contribution could be.”


He uses his own background as source material when he talks in schools. “When I was 14 years and three months old, I was five feet three inches tall and weighed around six stones. That was shrimp-like. They didn’t diagnose dyslexia in my era and I didn’t learn to read until I was 10.

“If at that time someone had said to my teachers this guy will get four degrees and write three books they would have laughed and I would have panicked.

“There is so much untapped potential in everyone. How many of us were told we were good at something when we were young? We are poor at that.

“I think we should be inspiring youngsters with the Olympian virtues of excellence, respect and friendship and the qualities all champions possess: self-awareness and responsibility.”

Unlike many of today’s athletes who simply have to concentrate on their sport, David combined his training with studies for a business administration degree at Boston University in the US.

“You just have to be well-organised,” he says. “While it was pretty shattering, I think it was an advantage as I believe that if you focus only on sport in terms of self-improvement, something as small as a slightly in-growing toenail can become a major problem.

“Not making it through the first round of a competition or even reaching the qualifying standard must be devastating if you’ve given your whole life to it. To be honest, every time there was a major championship, I did another degree.”

That meant that David was able to complete a teacher training course before the 1970 Commonwealth Games (where he was British team captain and 110m hurdles champion) and his master’s at Harvard in the run-up to the 1972 Munich Games (bronze in his event, silver in the relay).

In 1976, he returned to Boston University where he spent seven years coaching the athletics team, teaching and studying part-time for his doctorate in humanistic education/social psychology.

During the summers, he competed in the BBC’s Superstars series which put a variety of sports personalities through a rigorous series of tests and events. He won three times despite the best attempts of some competitors to gain a naughty advantage.

“Some of them actually dropped out of their sports altogether to concentrate on the programme which kind of lost the essence of what it was about,” he says with a smile.

Individual recognition

With a foot in both the education and athletics camps, school sport is another subject close to his heart.

“I’m really keen on people receiving individual recognition for their own development.

“Someone who takes ten minutes to run round a field and comes in last should be encouraged to improve on that time. If he’s still last the next week but completes the run in nine-anda- half minutes, that improvement should be recognised and someone should say they are proud of him and ask what he could achieve the next week. It’s more about a win-learn situation than a win-win.”

He adds: “Being the best you can be with what you’re given, behaving with integrity and making a contribution; that’s what’s important in life.”

Annual conference

David Hemery is one of the keynote speakers at the 2011 ASCL Annual Conference in Manchester on 11-12 March. For more details and to register, visit www.ascl.org.uk/annualconference

Be the Best You Can Be

The Be the Best You Can Be programme aims to “inspire, engage and empower young people to recognise and fulfil their potential; and to support the promise that the 2012 Olympic Games will inspire the youth of Britain and the rest of the world.”

It starts with a staff CPD day to enhance facilitation skills/child-centred teaching. “This is fundamental to empowering young people to be more self-aware and self-responsible,” says David Hemery. “We have started with year 7 but some schools are running the programme for years 8, 9 and 10.”

An inspirational Olympian launches the programme, sharing their journey and what it takes to succeed. Young people are asked to review the attributes of successful achievers and the speakers’ success map – before starting their own. Skills developed include visualisation, coaching/mentoring, alignment of mind, body, emotion, values and spirit and teamwork.

The programme has mainly been used in PHSE and PE but several schools are now using it for cross-curricular work, David adds. For further details on how to get involved, visit www.21stcenturylegacy.com

David Hemery