Richard Gerver - Issue 3 - Winter 2015 - University of Derby

Our Alumni: Richard Gerver

"Systems and structures change nothing - people do"

Richard Gerver has been described as “one of the most inspirational leaders of his generation”.

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His insight into education, leadership and change has enabled him to travel all over the world giving advice to multinational companies including Google and Apple. His extraordinary journey has seen him go from an aspiring actor to becoming an award-winning head teacher.

“I started off wanting to be an actor which didn’t exactly work out for me but it did help as I fell for a student teacher at university and wanted to impress her, so spent my non lecture days doing drama with her kids.

“That student teacher is now a head teacher and is also my wife, Lynne. I fell in love with her and teaching at the same time because the moment I walked into a school instigated by her was the first time I had ever thought about teaching. As it turns out, fate is a great thing.”

Richard famously transformed Grange Primary School, in Long Eaton, from a failing school into one of the most acclaimed learning environments in the world – in just two years.

“When I walked into Grange Primary School it didn’t feel like a failing school. Over a period of ten years the school had gone into a spiral of decline. External people had gone in and tried to implement intervention after intervention, strategy after strategy, bleeding the place of its soul.

“When I went into the school it wasn’t to reinforce processes or improve exam results, it was to put the heartbeat back into the place again, because I passionately believed that if we could make the place come alive everything else would take care of itself.”

And this is exactly what Richard did. Rather than pleasing Ofsted or the government he focused on getting things right for the children.

After twenty years in education Richard’s career took a turn: “I was in my dream job, part of a remarkable team doing extraordinary things. But as the school developed a reputation – nationally and internationally, I was increasingly being asked to go and explain externally what we were doing it and how we were doing it.

“It got to a point when I needed to make a decision and, having spent 20 years telling people they should take a risk, I realised it was my time to practice what I had preached for so long.”

So Richard took the leap and became a globally celebrated speaker and author, he now helps individuals and companies around the world to embrace change.

“The best way to grasp change is to really strip back a lot of the complexity. Many organisations see solutions to problems in neatly packaged structures and systems. One of the things I have always believed from my early days as a teacher and then going into leadership is that systems and structures change nothing – people do.”

Richard’s career has enabled him to ‘hang out’ with inspirational people such as Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman at Google, and Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple.“I have been fortunate enough to learn their views, their reflections on life, and even the successes and failures they have had which is extraordinary.”

Richard studied at the University of Derby and he will be awarded an Honorary Doctor of Education at its Graduation Awards Ceremony in January 2016. When I spoke to Richard about his journey, he said: “For me now to have gone full circle feels fantastic because it’s the University that gave me a world view, introduced me to my wife, my professional skills and the passions that I have, so it’s incredibly humbling to be receiving an Honorary Doctor of Education in January 2016.”

Richard’s next book titled Simplicity will be out in September 2016.

His achievements include:

Business Speaker of the Year 2011 at the London Business Forum AwardsTwo critically acclaimed best-selling books: Creating Tomorrow’s Schools Today (Bloomsbury) and Change; Learn to Love it, Learn to Lead it (Portfolio Penguin)School Head Teacher of the Year 2005  at the British National Teaching AwardsIn 2003, he worked with Tony Blair's Government as an advisor on education policy. 

Writer: Jenny McNicholas


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