Do grammar schools segregate or save?
Skool Girl speaks to 22-year-old Olivia Hinds, Director of SOMAD Global, a professional support and development service and the writer of the Grammar School to Graduate (GSTG) programme.
From homelessness to enduring abuse in her child-hood, Olivia still went onto attend Sutton Coldfield Grammar School for Girls, achieving 12 A* to B grades both in GCSE and A-Level and now holds a degree in International Business and Spanish.
Olivia is a fine example of someone who had the odds against them but still succeeded and not because of financial security or a well-structured home life, but purely because of her academic ability… ‘It basically saved my life’ says Olivia.
So, what would your response be to someone like Labour Shadow Home Secretary – Andy Burnham who says the education system ‘segregates children into successes and failures’?
I cannot say that I agree with him because I believe every child has the potential for success, within them – simply some are creative and others are academic. In my case I unexpectedly became both. Growing up, I never thought of myself as the top of the class, neither in primary school nor secondary school but I continued to push myself, as I knew (or at least was often told, until it registered for myself) where education could take me.
There are no failures, just lessons that have gone unlearned and therefore they repeat themselves. Even the most successful people made numerous mistakes beforehand, it’s how they can now distinguish between what to do and what not to do.
For the first 20 years of my life, I was predominantly a studious individual. It was only in my final year of University did my creative side really start to emerge and that’s where I faced an internal and external battle. I think exploring beyond my comfort zone, living in México City for 12 months, contributed to that.
Labels do not benefit anyone, since we are all different, with our own unique gifts and capabilities. The key is to channel the energy in the‘right’ way, in the most conducive environment.
What would you say are the main benefits of attending a Grammar school?
There is a central and strong focus on academia, although students are open to express themselves in other ways too. I can only speak of the grammar school I attended, Sutton Coldfield Grammar School for Girls (SCGSG) but the environment was just right for what I, personally, needed. Everyone is on the same level playing field, with a drive to reach high levels of achievement. No-one knew about my unstable home life and so it couldn’t be used against me.
I didn’t attend a state/comprehensive school, so it would be unfair of me to compare the two and say one is better over the other. I deliver workshops in state schools, and the students there have a desire to achieve too. However, I found grammar school very beneficial, since everyone was free to set a goal and you are not jeered at for being ‘the one in the class who got the highest mark’or something. This was the expectation. I’ll never forget my English Teacher – the day we walked into her classroom for our first GCSE English Literature lesson, she said: “In here, you do not get less than a B!”
I was in shock that she was so bold about what she wanted from her students, but from then I applied it to all my subjects, every year. You start to become responsible for your own learning, once you see the time and effort invested by the teaching staff.
I’ll never forget my English Teacher – the day we walked into her classroom for our first GCSE English Literature lesson, she said: “In here, you do not get less than a B!”
Despite having a tough start, what has made you become so self-driven and determined?
I’m very inquisitive. Apparently, my star sign Sagittarius in is in search for the‘meaning of life’ – (I don’t wholeheartedly believe in astrology) but that’s why we are classed as ‘adventurous’. So I guess, what drives me forward is knowing that the future is everlasting and I’m simply pursuing my vision.
Given all that I’ve been through, I know my journey is ongoing and one I have grown to embrace and embody – each experience shapes who I am and who I’m to become. In every moment of darkness, there is a greater possibility of seeing the light; with every door that closes, another will open. I have a very optimistic view of life, hence why my company is called SOMAD– So Optimistic, Mad About [our] Destiny. I enjoy the present, as I look to the future and thank the past for the lessons. Who doesn’t want to know what’s coming next? I certainly do.
At the age of 12, when I decided to only live in one house instead of two (my parents’ divorce didn’t lend itself to a solid home, with a 2 x 2 family as I call it – Mother, Father, Son, Daughter), I was told: “If you leave, don’t come back!”. That’s when I first realised that my only option is to keep moving, striving and pushing forward. Yes, I still face adversity and setbacks but I don’t let it stop me – if you can press pause, you can hit play.
My scars remind me where I have been…but I keep going.
Tell us more about your Grammar School to Graduate Programme and how it supports pupils?
Grammar School to Graduate (GSTG) is the flagship programme of SOMAD LTD, and only titled as such because that’s the specific journey I travelled – having been a pupil at Sutton Girls for 7 years and then graduating from Aston University, after 4. However, it is open to all young people.
I want students to be reminded that anything is possible, using my own experience as a tool to help them. The programme’s aimed at schools, Years 7 to 13, colleges, university students and those doing Apprenticeships, I also coach individuals.
There are various elements to the programme, it can be tailored to a specific group who: want to start to discover who they are, reawaken childhood dreams, navigate their way through the education system, explore new opportunities, become more strategic in their studying, figure out how to balance study, work and social life, make use of their current talents, or simply…Quiz me!
I’m opening myself up so they, the next generation, can feel inspired and encouraged to grow and develop. Their greatness is already there, they may just need help in finding it, unlocking and accepting it, then nurturing and unleashing it.
You have achieved so much both academically and professionally. What else can we expect from you and your business?
Growth does not stop. I’m not saying I will never be satisfied but I believe there is always room to do more. There’s a saying that says something like: “The more, good people get, is the more good people give.” I’d like to think I’m one of these‘good people’and I already know there is so much I would like to give.
My message is not for me and neither are my achievements. Selfishness may get you so far but selflessness gets you further. Besides I love interacting with different people so I hope to establish a global brand with an international reputation – that goes beyond myself!
I would love to see other young people become SOMAD too (because at some point I’ll reach capacity and cannot be everywhere, all the time) hence the name of by blog and YouTube channel being ‘SOMAD Global’. The idea is to have a strong network of young people who continue to feed into the minds of younger people, whilst they themselves expose and allow themselves to experience self-evolution.
What advice can you give to young people coming from underprivileged backgrounds who feel like they cannot succeed?
Don’t make your circumstances the excuses for why you cannot succeed, but instead make them the reasons why you can and WILL be a success. It’s a mindset shift that does not happen overnight but perseverance and resilience is attainable right now, so use it.
Many people may look at me now and the way in which I conduct myself, having never known where I have come from but I know – and it has become my source of strength. I’m no longer scared of the memories because my dreams are brighter. I have a fascination with the colour Orange because it balances me – Red and Yellow…but that’s another story!
Life is not supposed to be easy – nothing worth having is, and I won’t lie to you, as there are times when you will be flooded with doubt and disappointment but you are never subjected to anything you cannot handle. Your breakdown can be your breakthrough too!
Just remember: Test, Truth and Temporary…You will be tested, to be true to yourself, in every temporary situation. The journey is always just beginning and you control when and how you step.