Meet the new principal aiming to transform Sheffield secondary school – at just 39-years-old

Having travelled the world including third world nations at the age of 17, this young lad from London was upset to learn that there were many children deprived of basic education.

Monday, 29th March 2021, 11:54 am
Updated Monday, 29th March 2021, 12:01 pm

Now 39, principal Roland Freeman is on a mission to make sure that every child, regardless of their backgrounds, receives first class education and it starts here at Sheffield Park Academy.

Although he may be perceived to be 'too young' to be leading the teaching staff and about 1,200 students, he is not novice.

Throughout his career, he helped turn round several schools which were Ofsted-rated 'good' to 'outstanding'.

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Mr Roland Freeman, the new Principal at Sheffield Park Academy. Picture by Dean Atkins

He said: “I've worked in a variety of schools. I've always tried to look at communities where I think the quality of education could be improved even further.

"There are two important experiences for me," recounted Mr Freeman, whose mother was a Burmese immigrant who came to the country when she was a teenager.

"My mother had to leave school at 14, and had to work for her family. She went back to education in her late 30s and early 40s. She proved to me that education is essentially an important thing.

"She made me and my sister work really hard and realise she didn't have that opportunity and having the education, so that's an opportunity for us. That is my driving factor."

Mr Roland Freeman and one of his students at Sheffield Park Academy. Picture by Dean Atkins

And being a child of an immigrant who is half-Burmese half-English, he said, gives him an understanding of different cultures.

“I think it can help me see and understand other cultures growing up.”

The second experience, he said, was when he travelled to Brazil and worked with children living on the streets who did not have access to basic education like he had back home.

"These kids were so intelligent, more intelligent than some of the students in my own class. It made me really angry and made me really driven to try and make sure that every child receives a first-class education.

"Millions of children don't have access to education and that's a basic human right. If you get education right, our expectations, determination and behaviour will set someone for life.

"One of the reasons knowledge is one of core values of our life is that it is a journey of a constant knowledge. You never reach your destination. So I want to inspire the love of learning to all students by encouraging them to always want to improve themselves.

"I made many mistakes myself. That’s how you gain better knowledge, so you make fewer mistakes,” he added.

Mr Freeman, who started the new role since January, said he has been encouraging his students to have a clear belief and a high ambition for their life path.

He said his strict demeanour will help create learners who are knowledgeable, resilient and determined so they can have a successful life.

"They will be expected to behave well so I expect the children in this school to have the same expectations and behaviours like those at some of the top private schools down the road," he said.

Sheffield Park Academy's multi-racial background is also one of the reasons why he was drawn to it.

"The three majority communities here are Roma, Asian and whites and people get on well here. I'd also like to form a bridge between them.

"We are recruiting a Roma engagement officer so they can support the area of community and I attempt to engage those groups in Darnall and Manor and Castle as well."

He also hopes that more of his students envision going to top universities such as Oxbridge, as he aims to make the learning institution the most improved School in Sheffield within three years.

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. And our mission statement is to create Sheffield's influential young leaders of tomorrow who take Sheffield to the next level."

He however admitted that the communities would need to take their time to trust him to turn things around following the changes of his predecessors in a short period of time.

"By showing my background, I would like them to try and give me a chance so they can see what I’m trying to do here.

“I’m firm in their behaviour because I care about the students, so that is not because I enjoy sanctioning them, that is going to be a change. But because the school and the community need to see that I’m very firm because I want to see the best in them."

Asked on his big move from the South to the North, Mr Freeman said he first fell in love with Sheffield the moment he arrived at the city many years ago.

"I moved from London in December last year, people are friendly here. Friendlier than London, I think.

"People are very warm and kind and all the communities welcomed me very nicely. It's a great city and I like the countryside, especially when you have Peak District on the doorstep."

Mr Freeman started his teaching training in an inadequate school in North London before he realised that he needed to understand what an Outstanding school looked like.

He then progressed to middle and senior management in Valentines High School in Ilford, which is Ofsted Outstanding and top 2 percent for progress made of all schools nationally.

He subsequently moved to a double RI (requires improvement) school as deputy head and helped move it to good and then another double RI school, also as a a deputy headteacher and helped it move to Outstanding under the new framework.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.