Headteacher of 'transformed' school reveals why taking part in Prudential RideLondon helped pupils achieve more than just their fitness goals
Students from Meridian High in Croydon spent weeks training for the cycling festival, gradually increasing their skills and fitness. And, for all involved, it proved to be an enriching experience.
When Martin Giles joined Addington High in 2014, it was a failing school in a deprived community where students felt tarnished by association.
Today, the same school in Croydon, South London, not only has a new name, but it has a whole new culture and a track record in success.
Head teacher Martin has helped raise standards of both teaching and attainment among pupils, but has also seized opportunities to boost confidence and self-esteem.
He explained: "The school when I started was one that had converted to being an academy and was awaiting its first inspection as such. It had failed successive Ofsted inspections and was deemed to be requiring special measures.
"Both myself and the governing body felt that while the school had taken steps forward, it was still in danger of being found to be requiring special measures if inspected.
"Six months later at the inspection the school was judged to be requiring improvement, but with good leadership and good behaviour, and the report noted the school had been transformed which was very encouraging.
"As part of the momentum we were building we felt that for historic reasons, the students were unfairly judged when looking for work, university and college places by the name of the school which had acquired a poor reputation so that's why we decided to change it to Meridian High School."
Martin's ambition for his students didn't stop there. And, as part of a drive to improve standards, he wanted to strengthen the school's partnership with the Teach First charity.
He said: "Teach First is 15 years old this year and is a charity which works with talented graduates, taking people with strong qualifications and giving them six weeks of intensive training before teaching in a partner school for at least two years while completing a Leadership Development Programme which will help them on their chosen career path.
"When I joined the school I wanted to improve the quality of teaching by taking up to four teachers from Teach First. We shared the same commitment to turning around deprived communities."
When Teach First joined forces with Prudential to create a programme, PruGOals, aimed at raising aspirations and increasing self-esteem among young people through sport, Meridian seemed a natural fit with its ambitious approach.
They became one of several high schools to sign up for the Prudential RideLondon event in July - a major cycling and fundraising festival attracting 30,000 riders, and which includes a 46-mile cycle through the city streets.
Prudential donated bikes and training to the staff and Year 11 pupils who took part, in what proved to be an experience that helped boost more than just fitness.
"Saturday at 8am we would train with the students, building up fitness levels and confidence on the bikes before taking them out onto the open road building up stamina," said Martin.
"By the end of June we were doing 20 kilometres during each session.
"On the day of Prudential RideLondon, 16 students took part and four members of staff including myself. The training had an impact on their fitness which helped with their studies and exams, but the experience of being in London with thousands of other cyclists and seeing their city in such a different way left a lot of them talking afterwards about being determined to make something of their lives, and determined to stay fit as well."
And it wasn’t only the students who benefitted from taking part. Martin lost 12 kilos in weight over the course of his training - and plans to maintain his new-found fitness.
"At the start of this year I was 99 kilos. I can’t pretend I didn't think about what I might look like as a tubby man in Lycra. It’s easy to say, 'I'll get fit tomorrow', but, working in schools, you're looking to lead by example and I have changed what I eat and how much I exercise.
"We have been asked by Prudential and Teach First to take part again this year which we will be doing, and I hope to be involved again.
"We are one of most deprived communities in England but the resilience of the students and staff has been very strong.
"Prudential RideLondon has been such a positive experience, and the pupils were enriched by it."