19 October 2020

The Monday Briefing: Do you want to know a Secret?

The Monday Briefing: Do You Want To Know a Secret?

Best-kept secret - ‘Something that is known to very few people. Used especially with reference to something very good or desirable that is not generally known about.’

Some time ago, on a flight from Edinburgh to London, I remember reading ‘The Beach’ by Alex Garland. It is an interesting tale of a British backpacker, Richard, on holiday in Thailand who hears of a legendary, unspoilt paradise - the ultimate ‘best-kept secret’. He embarks on a mission to find it, carelessly sharing a map showing how to get there with fellow tourists. When he does arrive, he finds a community where newcomers are not welcome - but also not sent away to protect the secrecy of the location, kept under wraps because of a deal with neighbouring drug producers. Initially, his time on the beach is idyllic, but when more visitors arrive, a consequence of his sharing of the map, he is then threatened by the community and forced to flee for his life.

Back in reality, I have a good friend who works as Senior Corporate Counsel for the web based company Trip Advisor. When used in reviews, ‘best-kept secret’ appears to be somewhat of an accolade on the website. Apparently, Slovenia is the best-kept secret in Europe. A one-man magic show is the equivalent in New York. And a kebab house holds the honour in Nottingham.

Although I understand how the term can be used as a compliment, and I’ve had a number of meetings with enrolling parents this past summer who have delightfully told me that they’ve just uncovered some kind of rare gem, I really don’t want Ealing Independent College to be stuck with such a moniker forevermore. 

In terms of our location, we fit the term extremely well. The College does not have extensive grounds or sports fields. It boasts no Georgian or Victorian facade. It features no drama or music studio to hail as state of the art. We are, in essence, tucked away from Ealing Broadway out of sight of the main traffic thoroughfare. One would need to look carefully to find us, and visitors often remark that they have taken a few wrong turnings before getting here.

But, location and facilities can only take a school or college so far. 

It is the people within the building which truly characterise who we are: the students, the teachers and the support staff. And it is here that I am very keen to ensure that we escape being coined as a ‘best-kept secret’. In fact, I don’t want anyone to remain unaware of it.

Though there is a certain romantic image of keeping what we do close to our chest, with only the very privileged few experiencing the benefits of what we provide, like a back street patisserie which makes the ‘most incredible madeleines which you’ll remember for the rest of your life, found completely by accident,’ it’s not one I aspire to as Principal.

What happens within the walls of the College on a daily basis is special, and it is important to me that this message is conveyed far and wide. I say this because the College is the salvation of many students. Where they may have struggled in mainstream education for whatever reason, perhaps needing closer monitoring and expert guidance or feeling unchallenged in large-class teaching, there is an environment here which I know can bring out the very best in them.

In the last week or so, I’ve been reaching out to alumni and parents of alumni in an effort to widen our expertise as part of our introduction of a new university pathways programme. We will be supporting our applicants in the fields of Law, Medicine, Enterprise and Engineering by creating opportunities in work related learning, community participation and competitions. Expert Advice from former students and our parent body also adds to the help we provide.

Many were kind enough to supply testimonials for the College as part of the closer correspondence I am looking to share with them. Some incredibly appreciative and personal feedback left me really humbled by their responses to our appeal. 

One comment really did sum up the College with unmistakable honesty: “I can't recommend this school highly enough, it doesn't look the part from the outside but it's the staff that make this place. The quality of teaching was an order of magnitude above what we'd been experiencing. Thank you Ealing Independent College.”

This is not the sort of heartfelt feedback from parents that should ever be kept secret.

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