Abimbola Alabede, who started her career in the civil service six years ago, talks about how she proactively goes about effecting change in her community. Bimbo is a Policymaker who is passionate about education. She aims to create an environment where #BAME children in deprived areas have access to quality education.
I started my career as a civil servant six years ago, and I have never looked back. I want to say that I had this dream of making the world a better place, so I decided to work in the public sector – but I would be lying. It fell in my laps. I had finished my Masters in Law, and I knew I didn’t want to practise law. I spent a few months in Nigeria doing my Youth Service while trying to figure out what I would do next. After years of living away from home, I had to face the reality that maybe moving back to my mum’s in Sheffield was the best thing to do.
A few weeks after moving back with my mum, I got a job at the Home Office. It was my first proper job, and I think it was an eye-opener. It was my first jolt into reality as to how unskilled and uneducated a lot of the British public were. On my team, there were only three university graduates and managers without degrees were treated like gods; this really annoyed me. Perhaps it was the lack of opportunities up north in the civil service; I just knew my choices were limited in Sheffield. Sure, I was living rent-free, but I needed something that would add value to my life. So I decided to start looking for work in London.
I got one about two months into my job search. The job was a promotion, and I remember my manager at the time saying she will not be surprised if I came back years down the line, and I was her boss’ boss. I thought she was being sarcastic. She was not. I am not back in Sheffield, but I am her boss’ boss. I moved to London to work for another part of the Home Office; it must have been the cynical nature of the job, but I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world. Well, maybe not the world but I knew I wanted to implement changes that would better people’s lives. As a civil servant, the only possible avenue to this was to be a Policymaker. It sounded exciting at the time, so I started applying for policy roles in London. My background in law must have been a blessing because I got a job at the Department for Education.
“I will finally start making a difference in young people’s lives!” I thought. Shortly after starting the job, I realised that I only had the power to make recommendations to Ministers, who could choose whether or not they wanted to agree with my suggestions. The bureaucracy before getting my recommendation to Ministers, and the number of changes I had to make to specific policies because someone else’s boss – whom I had little or no dealings with – thought differently, was immense. The final straw, was when I finally got one of my policies agreed by Ministers, and then Brexit happened, which meant that we got a new Minister. The new Minister decided to cancel the policy as a whole, and that broke me.
At this point, I knew education was where my heart was. I also knew that, ultimately, the Minister of the day has the power to make real changes; not me, the lowly civil servant. So I decided to take matters into my own hands by becoming a school governor. I had talked to people before deciding to do this. I wanted to do something where my voice would make a positive impact. A governor’s role is to manage the school’s affair and support the school’s management to help them improve the school.
I found opportunities to be a school governor through Inspiring Governance website. I went into a meeting with the school principal of the first school I was matched with, and I will be honest – there were a few warning signs, but I overlooked them. He arranged an interview with the Board of Governors, after which I was sure the school wasn’t the right fit for me. The Chair of the Governor lacked motivation, he couldn’t answer basic questions about the school, and they didn’t appear focused. So I declined their offer.
The search continued, and I was matched with a primary school near me. I met with the Chair of Governors in the first instance, and I must admit – he was the complete opposite of the guy from the previous school. I knew within the first 10 minutes that I had found my home. The following week, I attended my first meeting, and I knew that it was not going to be a walk in the park. The chair was DEDICATED, and I loved it. I was appointed the Governor for English Language and Spanish for the school, which means I have to continually review how the English language is being taught and review the school’s results, attendance etc. Apart from that, we all get to review school spendings and make daily decisions on how the school is run. An example was when the kitchen’s oven/cooker packed up, and we had to review how to get a few thousand pounds to replace it and how the kids will be fed while we waited for a replacement.
We also get to decide whether a child should be excluded from the school; you will be surprised by how many primary school students are likely to get excluded (expelled). I am a firm believer in giving people chances, and I am happy that the governors get to have a say in matters like these. When children are excluded from schools, it may have an impact on whether or not that child will continue in education – which directly links to the availability of skilled and qualified people in the country for jobs. These things matter.
I am months into being a governor – it is very time-consuming; however, I realise that this might just be peculiar to my school because we have a hands-on chair. I have also been lucky that my department gives us days allowance for doing these kinds of things and the civil service is quite flexible. I have found what works for me. For example, on days that I have to do a school visit, I block my calendar for those few hours and work from home for the rest of the day.
If like me, you’re looking to make a difference in young people’s lives, you should check out Inspiring Governance. You can sign up for Career days where you get to talk about your career journey. I have been to some deprived areas where there is a high number of BAME children, and it is exciting to see how these young people want a better life for themselves and their family. A little heads up — you will get a lot of questions about your salary and how much you make. These kids are not playing at all.
Proactively effecting change is very fulfilling, and we can make a mark in this world by touching lives in our own little way.