STEVE MATTHEWS INTERVIEWS – ASHLEY BURGESS-PAYNE
Hello again and welcome to another edition of Up Close & Personal for the Renegade magazine. Like last month, I’ve had to travel a fair old distance to get to my guest today. When I say that, I always picture myself travelling to far off shores or interviewing people on the back of a super yacht in the South of France… Don’t get too excited, I’m sat here in Haywards Heath. My guest today is a great guy, an Ex-Primary School teacher, which I think is Elementary School in the States. He spent several years developing leaders and entrepreneurs of the future in the classroom but even though he’s moved on from that role, I know his passion is still in teaching and developing others. A trainee solicitor, he’s currently Head of Communications for Parfitt Cresswell, a large law practice here in the South of England, with I think at last count, 10 branches across the country… That must take some communicating. Not content with that, in true entrepreneurial fashion, he’s most recently established Connections International and I’m sure we’ll hear more about that from the man himself, but it’s an exciting idea to bring a community together and help local business through the local radio station. He has set up the drive and the engagement. A fantastic idea and that’s why I’m sat here in this very posh recording studio in Haywards Heath. When I first met him, it was in a previous Mastermind Group and it’s fair to say he was at somewhat of a crossroads at that time, but since then he has moved quickly to where he is today. His passion for self-development and the investment he makes into his learning and development is breath taking and sees him travelling all over the world in different circles, which I hope he will elaborate on and give us some gems he has learned along the way. Now, without further delay, my good friend, Ashley Burgess-Payne… How are you Ash?
Ashley Burgess-Payne: I’m good! Nice to see you Steve.
SM: Nice to be let into England Ash.
ABP: I have to say, that was quite a grand introduction, I’m very honoured. Travelling all that way into the foreign land.
SM: You deserve it mate. I’ve got to pay the toll to get back but I did that last month, so I’m happy to do it. I mentioned loads of things there in the intro and I’m sure our listeners are keen to learn more about your journey from Primary School teacher to entrepreneur. So how did it all start Ash?
ABP: There’s a question! So, in 2007 I went to University in Swansea funnily enough… My Welsh connections, but if I rewind a little bit, in 2006 I was in 6th Form, everyone was going off to Uni, or so it seemed and I was at a crossroads then, thinking, “I need to do something. Everyone is going away, leaving home and heading to Uni, I need to find something to do, to do the same”. So, I was racking my brains and thought, for the last several years of Secondary School, High School in the States, I had helped out the younger years and was deputy head boy, I did a lot of things with the younger pupils. Helping them out with sports days, XYZ, so I stumbled upon, I suppose you could say, Primary Teaching. I thought, right, I’ll go and try my hand at that. I’d always enjoyed it and my passion is helping, so I did 4 years in Swansea University and qualified as a school teacher and came back to Maidstone funnily enough… Where I know your daughter is currently at.
SM: That’s right, she’s at Uni in Maidstone.
ABP: Yea, so I was a Primary School teacher for a few years and thoroughly enjoyed it, I loved that.
SM: It must be tough old job mind?
ABP: Yea it is. It’s tough because it isn’t a glamorous job. If you walk into a bar and say, “I’m a solicitor” for example or “I work in the City”, people think that’s quite cool but if you say you’re a school teacher, don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic career and probably one of the most important jobs going, but it’s not glamorous, is it? You’re crawling around on the floor or you’ve got paint/crayons all over you. It’s not like a Bank Manager or an entrepreneur even, it’s not’ cool’ so to speak. So, I did that in Maidstone and loved it but as time progressed I just found myself being drawn further and further away from why I got into teaching. I was spending less and less time in the classroom and spending more time filling in forms, doing admin… a prime example being, if I wanted to do a 10 or 15-minute reading session at the end of the day, where I would read to the kids, because I know when I was younger, I used to love that when I was in school. The teacher would pull out a book, which was the class book that we’d been doing for that term, you could sit there and with the teacher reading it the way an adult reads to a child, with the voices changing for the different characters, I loved that. So, I’d do things like that with the kids. It was a 10 – 15-minute relaxation time for them, but I’d have to fill in paperwork just to do that and explain why I was doing it. Sometimes it would take me longer to do the paperwork than it would to actually do the task. So, I kind of fell out of love with it, I guess you could say.
SM: It’s so sad though isn’t it? I’ve got a lot of teachers in my family and I just think there are so many people like yourself who go into that fantastic vocation, and it’s such an important vocation to bring up the youth of today. You go in there for the right reasons and leave because of the wrong reasons, what they’re asking you to do. It’s like as if, I’ve obviously had 2 children that have gone through the full education system, with one of them in Uni and one just coming up to the end of Secondary School, they seem to be groomed to pass exams now and teachers seem to be primed just to tick the boxes.
ABP: And that was the killer… The Head Teacher when I joined the school was very ‘old school’, he didn’t know how to switch his computer on and he didn’t know how to log onto the local authority’s education website and do all the facts and figures and statistics but he knew every child’s name in that school and he knew their background and they loved him. He cared for those kids, but the school, according to OFSTED was not performing as well as it should. So, he left through one way or another, early retirement or however you want to put it and a new Head Teacher came in, and she was very business orientated. She didn’t know anything about the kids, didn’t know their names or their backgrounds, she hardly ever came into assembly… which I’m sure everybody knows is when the Head Teacher has their starring role, but she was fantastic at all the other things and ticked the boxes that local authorities wanted. I sat in an appraisal one day in the staff room and she asked me why child 24’s statistics weren’t where they should be. And I don’t know why, but it always stuck with me, I thought, that child has a name and you don’t know anything about that child. You get protective over them, I always used to call them, my kids. I’d be out in public talking about ‘my kids’, my kids did this and people would be looking at you and thinking, “how many kids have you got”? So, from September to July you become attached to them and want to see them achieve, so when somebody says, “why hasn’t number 24 or 27 achieved”? I felt maybe that particular school or the whole of the education sector wasn’t going down the route I thought that it should, and I don’t think the education sector gives kids the start they should have. Yea, there’s loads of knowledge but not much of it is that useful when you step outside of school into the real world.
SM: I completely agree and I’m sure we could go on about it forever… I remember my daughter, who’s in University now, after she’d passed her GCSE’s, passed her A Levels, now she’s going to do a medical degree in University, so obviously she had to achieve a high level of grades in those exams; I remember her going to a shop to buy a pair of jeans and they had 20% off, the jeans were £14 and she couldn’t work out if she had enough money to buy them. It’s simple things like that.
ABP: It’s simple life skills isn’t it and I suppose as I’ve grown older and independence has become more of a thing for me now, you realise, oh hang on, I don’t know how to pay a bill or deal with credit cards or money. So, yea, I felt we were spending lot of time on things that weren’t necessarily necessary. And you have to remember that each child is different, so you can’t just have one way of doing things. One child might be fantastic at art, another child, writing, another child, acting. So, you can’t box them into, as you were saying, fit, just so we can pass the test as a school or profession of teachers. It’s almost like you’re stunting people’s expression and their personal journey.
SM: It’s funny you should say that though, I wasn’t going to lead on to this but it is quite relevant… Managing people and employing people is the same thing, because if you think about it, everybody’s different, what motivates one, doesn’t motivate another! What some people like, other people don’t like. You’ve got to treat them all as individuals.
ABP: For example, talking about employees, we had a whole firm wide training day back on the 10th October and I only remember that because it was my mother’s birthday, but anyway we had 100 people there and it was the first time we’d done it. Talking on the point that everyone is different, and I always think you have to motivate people, you have to find out what gets them going, what lights the fire in them. And it was interesting, it was the first time we’d really told everyone what our story was, as a firm, as a family obviously. My mother owns the firm, I’ve been involved in the firm for 5 years now and on and off for 10 years, as I used to work here in the summers, throughout school and Uni, but it’s the first time we’ve really gone into ‘us’ as people, our reasons and why, and it was amazing to see how people reacted, to understanding why we do things, just so people could grasp, it’s not just about business and making money, it’s a deeper purpose and meaning behind it all, which is why we want to offer the best legal service to people based on previous experience that my mother had that wasn’t great with the legal sector. And again, that’s kind of bringing it back around to me, the whole thing with education, is I’d like to get back into the education sector to help younger adults/kids realise that a lot of what you can do and achieve in life is already inside you and in your mind in particular, so often we do put a concrete ceiling on ourselves and think, we can’t do that…
Listen to the rest of the interview at 729Renegades.com/podcast