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Boxing clever: Islington Academy head leads from the front

Prince Gennuh: ‘I have future prime ministers here... students who will decide on my pension’

23 May, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Prince Gennuh: ‘my first job was a baptism of fire’

GHANAIAN-born head- teacher Prince Gennuh was shocked on his first day in an Islington school when pupils folded up the worksheets he gave them and threw them at him.

Mr Gennuh, who is now the head of City of London Academy (COLA) Highgate Hill, Archway, was studying for his Masters when he took on a supply teacher role in Islington Green almost 20 years ago.

In his first interview since taking the COLA job, the headteacher told the Tribune it was a “baptism of fire”.

He added: “It was very difficult at the time. For someone coming from a country where students sit down and listen. I thought: look, I can’t do this.”

When he was asked to come back for a second day he claimed to be ill and thought he would never teach again in the UK, let alone Islington.

But three days later he was convinced to try teaching again at a school in Walthamstow where he found his feet.

After teaching maths in schools across north-west London he moved into the academy system as deputy head at COLA Hackney. Academies broke from the traditional council-run system of managing schools, allow- ing outside sponsors to set up their own, taking control of curriculum and teachers’ pay and conditions.

Mr Gennuh said: “The perception at the time was that academies were really ruthless. Someone said to me that you have to work long hours. For me, I am not lazy, I like work. If these are the problems, then I do not have a problem working for academies.”

Last year Mr Gennuh took on the headteacher role at COLA Highgate Hill, which had been Mount Carmel Catholic College for Girls up until September 2017, when it was opened up to all genders.

As the Tribune reported previously, he was criticised for introducing strict rules that meant pupils were not allowed to speak in the corridors

between classes and mobile phones would be confiscated.

The City of London Corporation stands by a policy that was at the time likened to a “Victorian prison” by National Education Union campaigners. They say that it has improved results by “preventing lessons being disrupted by students in the corridors”.

Mr Gennuh has become known for his energetic teaching and leadership style.

He noticed that many students were immediately demoralised by the prospect of studying maths because of the way they thought about it and he devised a technique for teaching that combined boxing.

Students stand up and punch invisible decimal points into the sky and call out solutions in response to teachers’ questions.

One of Mr Gennuh’s maths lessons that combine boxing with arithmetic

He said: “This approach is good for everyone, particularly the students who are really weak in maths, who don’t find it interesting. You will see them standing up in a classroom and doing all these activities.”

Mr Gennuh has a track record of moving on from jobs after about three years in the position, but this time it will be different, he claims.

“I have future prime ministers here,” he added. “I have students who will be making policies when I am on my sick bed, they will decide on my pension. I have musicians, headteachers and journalists here.

“We need to ensure that when they take up these positions they are effective.

“That is what I want to achieve as a principal. Once I have loads of students going to university, getting good apprentices and good jobs, then I can look at the next step.

“I said to myself I will not jump after three years.”

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