Sir Rod Aldridge on why we should look to the future and his love for Brighton
PUBLISHED: 12:05 12 June 2017 | UPDATED: 12:05 12 June 2017
Sport and dance helped Sir Rod Aldridge overcome early academic disappointment - and now his foundation has turned his former Portslade school around. Duncan Hall finds out how he wants to use both to help the city's young people
When Theresa May announced plans to expand grammar schools in the UK one of her fiercest critics was a successful businessman who suffered the negative effects of the 11 plus exam.
Even today, 58 years on, millionaire philanthropist Sir Rod Aldridge says he feels frustrated with himself for failing the exam: “I felt I had let myself down in educational terms,” he says. “And education had let me down.” Upon retiring as chairman of outsourcing company Capita ten years ago Sir Rod, 69, launched the Aldridge Foundation. The charity is now behind not only Brighton Aldridge Community Academy (BACA), but also his former school, the Portslade County School for Boys, now the Portslade Aldridge Community Academy (PACA). Together the two schools mark a £42m investment in education in his former hometown. In two years they have gone from requiring improvement to earning “good” ratings on their 2016 Ofsted reports. Part of that may be down to Sir Rod’s attitude towards education, and his desire to push it forward into the 21st century. “I still feel we are developing kids for the past, not kids for the future,” he says. “A lot of the jobs they will be doing are not even created at the moment.”
In the past year Sir Rod has launched the £1.8m Rod Aldridge Cricket Centre at BACA, featuring a physiotherapy room, gym and main hall with three full-size cricket nets. And he has announced the launch of a new high quality dance studio, the Aldridge Community and Learning Space, which will be part of cutting-edge facility The Dance Space – due to open in 2019 in Brighton’s former Circus Street Market. He is working with charity South East Dance, who will base their Centre for Advanced Training Brighton Satellite scheme in the space, on a new BTEC National Extended Diploma in Performing Arts (Dance). The course, which launches this September, is for students who want a career in the performing arts. As with the cricket course, students follow their specialisation in the afternoons, and take more traditional subjects in the morning. Both the cricket and dance courses link to Sir Rod’s own passions, which helped him develop after his early educational disappointment.
Sir Rod danced competitively from the age of seven to 20, performing at the Royal Albert Hall and Blackpool Tower Ballroom. He credits dancing for teaching him important life lessons. “It taught me about working hard and practising to be good at something,” he says. “Dancing in front of a lot of people takes courage, particularly in large venues. I gained an awful lot from it, although I didn’t realise it at the time.”
He wants to share that experience with young people who might be struggling with the academic focus of school. “Everybody is talented at something,” he says. “You have got to find it. I’m trying to develop an all-round person. It is important to get academic excellence – I don’t believe anybody should leave school without having the basics in maths and English. Some people are academic, some are not. Developing the interest of a person unlocks the desire to learn. There is too much focus put on the time somebody spends at school without making it relevant to what they are going to do with their lives. It can be challenging when it comes to communities as there aren’t always opportunities for young people to do things. We are trying to change that. All my academies are in quite challenging communities – the job is to change the community.”
The Dance Space will open in the Queen’s Park ward of Brighton, which is recognised as one of the top one per cent deprived wards in England. “What we are trying to say to young people is this doesn’t have to be your life – you can change your life and we can give you the tools to do that, both academically and from a personal point of view. The academic facilities [at BACA and PACA] are now as good as any public school, let alone a state school.”
Sir Rod’s own story is of someone who was able to drive and motivate himself to do better. Leaving school at 16 he became a post boy at East Sussex County Council. But through evening home study he qualified to become an accountant at the age of 21. He worked all over Sussex, taking up positions in the payroll and audit departments in East Sussex County Council before becoming a senior council accountant in Brighton and then Crawley. Following 10 years as technical director at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance he launched the outsourcing specialists Capita Group in 1984. They earned fame, and some notoriety, for their involvement creating the Criminal Records Bureau database and administering the London congestion charge. He left as chairman of the company in 2006 after it was revealed he had loaned £1m of his own money to the Labour Party – then the party in power – leading critics to claim it resulted in Capita receiving government contracts. When he stepped down he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was because he did “not want this misconception to continue” adding: “People should be free to give donations to political parties, as well as charities and other organisations, and their motives for doing so should not be impugned because these are made normally in good faith by people who want to help the cause they believe in.”
His work with the Aldridge Foundation carries on his belief in encouraging talent and expression. The new dance BTEC follows on from his time spent as chair of the Department of Health’s Dance Champions Group. He is a trustee in Manchester arts and entertainment venue The Lowry in Salford, as well as a former Trustee of The Prince’s Trust, former chair of special schools provider Acorn Care and Education and a founder member of the Prince’s Charities Council.
Although he splits his time between Surrey and London, Brighton still holds a special place in his heart. His centenarian mother still lives in the city so he is a regular visitor. “I love Brighton – it’s my city,” he says. “I don’t think we act fast enough though – I get quite frustrated about it. There is too much living in the past. I work a lot in Manchester and Salford and there are interesting parallels between what they have done. The docks in Salford were closed in 1986. Now they have a place there which employs more people than were working on the docks. The Lowry has nearly 1m visitors in a year, and with the BBC and ITV there it is a vibrant place. Brighton is a very vibrant space and open-minded community, but you have got to do something, not just talk about it. I built a company by putting 20-odd years of activity into it and the city needs to have that mentality. How long did it take to get the Amex Stadium built? It was about 15 years, and now there are 30,000 people who go there and love it.”
It’s part of the reason he and South East Dance launched the dance BTEC this year, rather than wait for The Dance Space to open. “It’s about stimulating interest in dance to create a momentum,” he says. “There is no reason why we couldn’t have somebody who develops a dance career – our own Billy Elliot.”
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