FATHER and entrepreneur Roy Patel lives with the effects of autism every day. His children have the condition and they are his motivation to help schools succeed, as Charlotte Bowe explains.

FOR Roy Patel, it was a labour of love to take on a failing school and turn it around. Ofsted inspectors found an academy in the care of 270 children with complex needs was ‘inadequate’ in 2017 and with special measures it place, there was a long road ahead to bring Darlington’s Beaumont Hill Academy back up to scratch.

As a self-made businessman who grew up in the town, Mr Patel knew the schools in Darlington. He attended St Teresa’s Primary School and Carmel College before going on to study business at Darlington College. He harboured ambitions of becoming an accountant and joined his family’s clothing manufacturing business until a company move south saw his career goals shift.

“I decided to remain in Darlington, start a family, move into IT and become my own boss,” he said. “I worked as an advisor within a number of schools across the region and was approached to become a governor at a school that was looking for someone with my technical skill set. As well as supporting the children, I found I was able to help the school address some very challenging issues and through that realised that my real passion lay with helping pupils with more complex needs.”

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Mr Patel himself knew the relentless demands and priceless rewards of caring for children in need of extra support.

“It really is a passion and my work with schools is so fulfilling,” he added. “As a father of children with severe autism myself I know exactly what parents go through and I know what schools go through so I can see everything from both sides.”

The entrepreneur built up a reputation for himself in the region, balancing his career with parenthood, and he was approached by schools for children with a range of social, emotional and mental health difficulties. He gave up his own time to take up governance roles with Walworth School, Newton Aycliffe, Evergreen School, Bishop Auckland, The Oaks, Spennymoor and became vice chair of the Ascent Trust through his work with Hopewood Academy, Easington.

But it was closer to home that Mr Patel would stand in to boost a school community in need of expert guidance. It was then Mr Patel was brought in and later appointed chair of governors at Beaumont Hill Academy, part of the Education Village Academy Trust, in Darlington. The specialist academy supports children, aged from two to 19, with a range of abilities, from profound and multiple learning difficulties to severe and complex needs. Mr Patel’s appointment follows the academy’s recent Ofsted inspection where inspectors lifted its status by two categories to ‘good’.

“When I was asked to support Beaumont Hill Academy I was in a position to be able to stand back and look at the whole picture and what I saw was a school that was getting a lot of help but just needed support to make it more streamlined,” he explained. “I spoke to the head, who was doing a great job, and we worked to simplify processes as much as possible to let the really good work shine through. I think everyone just needed to be more confident in themselves and feel secure that what they were doing was the right thing.

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“Beaumont Hill is on a journey. I see it as a leading specialist school, a beacon of good practice for others to follow and a place where everyone, teachers, parents, careers and governors, the local authority, but most importantly the children themselves, have a voice.”

In a fresh approach, governors and school leaders took a stance on no exclusions, listening to children and integrating all areas of the school into the main academy.

“Really we just kept plugging away and had faith in the leadership team to really lead us,” said Mr Patel. “I came with the approach of looking at it from a caring angle and empowering everyone to be the best they could be. The last inspection really vindicated that we were good and had the mindset that we were a ‘good’ school.

“I have never met more resilient staff who stood with each other and I was delighted with the outcome for them and for the academy. Just walking around I can already sense a different atmosphere, people seem happier and that can only be better for the children. Hopefully now everyone can relax a little and just continue to do what they do well.”

Alongside his increasing number of roles, Mr Patel has become regional system lead for governance for All North Teaching Schools, helping schools across the north.

“I have no regrets at all about not becoming an accountant,” added Mr Patel. “I wouldn’t change a thing about the way my life has turned out. I have been extremely privileged to be able to help change children’s lives and to see, when given the right support and opportunities, just what they are able to achieve.”