Educate catches up with Alsop High School headteacher, Joe Mangan, to talk about the importance of community, the benefits of innovative thinking and why we should celebrate our differences.
by Christine Toner
For all his success as a headteacher, teaching wasn’t Joe Mangan’s dream growing up. Indeed, even after graduating from university Joe didn’t immediately look to the world of education for a career. Instead he became a sales rep in the medical industry, a job he thrived in for several years. He was, however, surrounded by teachers as many of his friends were in the profession. And this, along with a love of football that saw him working with young people as a coach, eventually led to his decision to qualify as a teacher.
“I finally came into the profession when I was 26,” he says.
Yet, despite not originally intending to be a teacher, Joe certainly knew what he wanted to aspire to once he did.
“As a child I went to Holy Family in Thornton and I had a few excellent teachers,” he says. “Mr Holmes was modern foreign language teacher and was a real inspiration and is now one of my best friends and godfather to my daughter. There was also Mr Whelan, my PE teacher. I was lucky enough to work with Mr Whelan in my first school, St George of England, and he was an outstanding man but sadly is no longer with us.”
St George of England, which is now Hawthorne Academy, was Joe’s first school as a qualified teacher. His career has also seen him take up positions at Manor High School in Crosby, which is now St Michael’s and Maghull High School.
“I have been fortunate to work on the senior management team in three of those schools and learned a lot from colleagues I have worked alongside,” he says.
Nine years ago Joe came to Alsop and went on to become deputy headteacher (“I had been an assistant headteacher in two different schools and knew I was ready to make the next step,” he says) before being appointed head.
Since taking on the role it’s clear that inspiring his students has been a key priority – and one way of doing so has been to enlist the help of some amazing speakers.
“We have been very fortunate to have some incredible speakers in school, partly due to the Speakers for Schools programme It is important that we raise aspirations and broaden horizons,” he says. “Having incredibly successful people, such as the actor David Morrissey, shows are students that there is nothing that they cannot achieve. Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, was a true inspiration to our students and staff. Not only was he able to relate to the young people and inspire them, but he is a fine Evertonian so is welcome back any time!”
The school has also played host to holocaust survivor Ziggi Shipper, who Joe says is “a real friend of the school”.
“We are always in awe of his generosity of spirit and his message of love over hate,” he says. “When you are in the room with him you know you are in the presence of an incredible human being and someone we should all aspire to emulate”.
With such an amazing roster of visitors to the school, it must be hard to choose one in particular that stands out. But there is one that sticks in Joe’s mind.
“I have to say some of the most influential speakers have been Alsop alumni,” he says. “Colin Parry, an Alsopian, founded the Peace Centre in Warrington after his son was killed by an IRA bomb. Colin has worked with various groups in school and moves and inspires us with the work he carries out when it would be so easy just to hate.”
Promoting tolerance, understanding and inclusivity is something that is clearly important to Joe and his team. Indeed, last year the school held an event to celebrate More in Common in memory of murdered MP Jo Cox.
“We are extremely proud to serve our community which has a rapidly changing demographic,” he says. “It is incumbent on us to help manage that change through education and to help bring community cohesion and tolerance. Our differences should unite us not divide us and should be celebrated. That is the message we are sharing with our school community.”
And that “community” extends beyond the school building. Alsop students are active members of the Walton community in which the school is based and regularly host events to help those in the local area.
“Our governors are committed to providing opportunities for the whole community to raise aspirations, provide experiences that will stay with students for their lifetime and provide the pathways to success in a variety of ways” he says. “There are elements of our community that face real hardships and the test of a community is how we treat one another in times of adversity not just in times of prosperity. Part of our role, and the role of all schools, is to provide life chances and help young people become responsible citizens. Many of our governors are Alsop alumni or had children who came to this school so there is a deep rooted vested interest in the school being at the heart of the community.”
One area in which the school particularly excels is its 16-19 study programmes, which were recently rated good by Ofsted. Joe says the fact that the school and its staff are “constantly reflecting on our practice in all areas and striving be better” is the reason for this.
“The post 16 provision led the way with some innovative strategies which proved successful and resulted in 125 students from Alsop going on to university last year,” he says. “Many of them were the first in their families to go and that is something we are extremely proud of. The successful approaches are now being embedded across the school and we are seeing real impact on pupil engagement and progress.”
Next year will see the school celebrate its centenary and Joe says he and his team are currently working on a series of events to mark this “incredible achievement”.
In the meantime, the school plans to continue building on its current success.
“We have recently had an internal restructure to enable us to build on the character and culture of our school community and continue to improve the academic progress of our students,” says Joe. “We have had some amazing achievements in recent years, 28% of 147 students last year achieving A* or A grade at GCSE Spanish for example. We need to continue to build on our numerous successes as we move forward with confidence but not complacency.”
And as for Joe, where does he see himself in 10 years time?
“Bless you for asking,” he laughs, “but in 10 years I will be retired with either my feet up or playing golf. I will remember with pride the time I had the great privilege to work with such amazing students and staff at Alsop.”