Old boys and girls point the way to a bright future

First published in News The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Health & Education Editor

Students have been taken on a rock and roll ride showing where the road can take them if they grasp the opportunities of life.

WAX cotton jacket, dark polo shirt and jeans, John Proctor looks every bit the car mechanic as he stands before a room full of students in the dining hall he knew as a child.

"I loved motor vehicle at school," he tells Year Nine students at Darlington School of Mathematics. "I wasn't really that bothered about RE, maths or English but I quite liked design tech too. Everything was set up for me to become a car mechanic."

Charlotte Walker, programme officer for the national charity Future First, which uses the old boys and girls network to inspire, asks the children if they can guess what John does for a living and one boys offers the obvious: "you are a car mechanic."

And he was, but that was then and this is now and the 48-year-old smiles knowingly before reaching down to give the students a further clue, picking up two framed posters hinting at an alternative career. The one on the right shows a picture of Australian celebrity Peter Andre and lists a string of dates for the UK Revelation Tour; the one on the left is a framed thank you from Slim Shady rap star Eminem. "For all your hard work", it reads.

"That's what I do now," says John, who suffers from dyslexia. "But if I had my time over again at school, I would concentrate more on my maths, English and languages. I was blinkered."

When John left the then Branksome Comprehensive School in the 1980s, it was to become a car mechanic and for the next six years he worked on Mercedes vehicles. Then, after the death of his father, he moved to London where new, exciting opportunities began to open up.

"I took up martial arts and was quite good at it," he recalls. "Then I became a bodyguard. A member of Special Branch took me under his wing and I trained in close protection work, hostage and ransom issues and witness protection. This all requires skills in logistics and when I was asked to get into tour management, I thought I would give it a go."

As an international security consultant and tour director, John's work now takes him all over the world, including organising tours for Britney Spears, Eminem and Peter Andre.

During last year's Olympics he looked after Team USA. "In the run-up to the games, I received 1,000 emails a day - so you soon learn to be good at reading," he says. "I also deal with big budgets, so maths has become essential. It's amazing how much you can concentrate when there is money to be made."

John is among a panel of former students inspiring the next generation of schoolchildren as they begin to map out their lives. Standing next to him is Mike Toes, who ran away to join the Army at 16 but now runs his own successful business management, coaching and training consultancy, Recreate.

Also among the panel is Samantha Ormerod who only left DSMS last year, but is enjoying life at the town's prestigious Queen Elizabeth's Sixth Form College studying law, psychology, history and maths.

And Adele Pearson tells students how she always wanted to be involved in travel and tourism, but is now assistant head teacher at a special educational needs school.

Nico Gaballonie left school recently, too, and is at Darlington College discovering the potential of the world of games design and development.

Nicole Pegg also remembers her school days well. They weren't so long ago, but she is now a governor and vice president of the students’ union at Northumbria University, where she studies law.

All of the volunteers have powerful messages to share to help the students decide on their next step and avoid any pitfalls that could prevent them achieving their best. Every panel member urges the current year group to make the most of their school days, to work hard, revise and maximise their life chances.

DSMS has never been in better shape to help them do so. It has undergone a complete overhaul in recent years with a £3m upgrade to facilities and radical changes to the curriculum and teaching methods, including the introduction of the Future First programme.

Charlotte says: "Just talking about their experiences since leaving school can be enough to ignite something in students, an aspiration, which could help them decide what they would like to do with their lives."

"Effective and relevant education addresses more than just their needs today," adds head teacher Calvin Kipling. "It uses resources from the past, because our alumni have some incredibly powerful messages to share, and it looks to the future to provide students with the skills and aspirations they will need to be successful.

"John's story takes this to the extreme, but is clear evidence for our students that anything is possible in life if you have the right mindset and are prepared to make the most of opportunities which arise."

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