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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 March 2006, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Push to raise great expectations
By Suzanne Leigh
BBC News education reporter

Yolande Beckles is a tough-talking woman on a mission - to help inner city teenagers achieve their dreams.

Yolande Beckles
Teenagers must be pushed to aim higher, says Yolande Beckles

In a new BBC series, Don't Mess With Miss Beckles, she tackles nine pupils failing to fulfil their potential.

Here, she tells the BBC News Website why schools must play their part in raising the aspirations of pupils.

"I think the impact of teaching can be huge," she said. "You have a key to a door when you are a teacher and you should wake up every day and remember that."

Drawing on her experiences working in human resources, she set up a motivational firm Global Graduates, which currently has 3,000 pupils going through a 10-year programme which often starts when they are 13.

Those on it have to go through a rigorous selection procedure - as do their families.

Once on the programme they are faced with the tough-talking Miss Beckles, or Yo as she prefers to be known, who works with the pupil, their family and school.

She tells them when to get up, what to eat, how much they need to work - and she tells them what will happen if they don't.

This is about doing a 360-degree turn and some people, when they are faced with how I work go 'whoaah'

Her results are impressive. Many students go on to do degrees at Oxford and Cambridge; one has just been accepted at Harvard.

She works with the legal sector, science and technology, medicine, museums and galleries - and has plans to work with the media industry.

Her goal is to inspire those from ethnic minorities or disadvantaged backgrounds to raise their aspirations and achieve.

But those going through her programme are naturally motivated in the first place to want to do it.

"They have been selected because we want the best," she admits.

So in Don't Mess With Miss Beckles she is faced with teenagers who lack such motivation. Her challenge is to change this.


"There are many children like that," she said. "And we have to ask why, in education, do we switch off so many children?"

She added: "I had to switch them back on to learning. But that was not just my responsibility. It's about the child, it's about parents, it's about the school. This is about doing a 360-degree turn and some people, when they are faced with how I work go 'whoaah'."

One of her biggest challenges, she says, is to encourage self-belief.

"There are many people who were told at school that they weren't any good," she said. "People should not be told that. They should be told that they can achieve."
Yolande Beckles
I think honesty is about truth and if you say look this is what will happen if you don't do this work then there is nothing wrong with that

But isn't she just piling on too much pressure?

"Life is pressured," she said. "Life is not an easy ticket. When you leave school with no qualifications and you are stuck being a trolley boy in a supermarket you might start to think 'What was I doing all that time at school?' And you might start to think why didn't anyone tell me this was what I'd be doing if I didn't do any work."

It is this honesty which she says she often finds lacking from both teachers and parents.

"I tell children off," she said. "And I found that many people just aren't being honest with the children. I think honesty is about truth and if you say 'Look this is what will happen if you don't do this work' then there is nothing wrong with that."

A 43-year-old single mother, she has two children, Diandra, 12, and six-year-old Euan.

"What they see on TV is what they see at home," she said.

In the first of the three programmes of the series she works with three boys, Luke, Josh and Tom, all pupils at a north London comprehensive.

They had dreams, she says, but these didn't fit with the reality of their lives.

One, Luke, wants to be a film director.

I get teachers who say thank God for you, I've been wanting to say that for years

"I explained to him what the life of a film director involves," she said. "I told him it often involves getting up at 4am, getting home at 1am. This is a boy who can barely get himself out of bed before one o'clock in the afternoon.

"I just give it to them real. As a parent myself we want to engage with our children, we want to nurture them, love them. But surely part of that is telling them that if they want to achieve something they have to get with the programme.

"At the start Luke absolutely hated me. He hated that I was strong. He resisted me but he is now one of the most focused of the children."


She works with schools all the time. So what sort of reaction does she get from teachers?

"I get two types of reaction," she said. "I get teachers who say 'Thank God for you, I've been wanting to say that for years'.

"And there are some people in education who, personally, I think shouldn't be there."

Teaching should be about motivating as well as informing, she says - there are many teachers who inspire.

She speaks fondly of her form tutor Mr Stephenson at what is now Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school in Islington, London.

"People like that God sends," she said.

Don't Mess With Miss Beckles is on BBC2 at 2100BST, Tuesday 28 March.

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