Liverpool’s first Black headteacher on her inspirational career

When Gloria Hyatt set up Elimu Academy in 1993, she made local history in becoming the city's first Black headteacher

Liverpool’s first Black headteacher, Gloria Hyatt MBE, who set up an ‘outstanding’ academy in Toxteth working with high achieving youngsters and those at risk of educational exclusion was inspired into education herself as a child by a primary teacher who she said “made me think I could be like her.”

Gloria set up the Elimu Academy in Liverpool 8 in 1993, making her the city’s first Black headteacher.

Prior to that she had worked at schools across Liverpool, after training for a degree and masters in education at the city’s universities.

Now working as an educator and consultant, providing coaching and training to individuals and companies across the UK, Gloria has taken her passion for education and made history, inspiring generations of young people and professionals to achieve their potential.

As a child, Gloria ended up in foster care, and she told the ECHO: “I was born in L8 and I actually went through the care system, it was typical for many families at the time in my situation, born with a white Irish mother and Black Jamaican father – it was a very typical thing that happened that children would end up in the care system.

“I used to make a joke that I was the only Black person in the village and I remember coming back into Toxteth as a teenager and saying to my friend, ‘look at all these Black people’ – I couldn’t believe it.

“So in many ways my experience has been different because being in the care system I would be moving a lot around middle class white areas.”

At just nine years old, Gloria decided upon a career path which would not only shape her life but lead her to make history in Liverpool.

She said: “I decided aged nine to be a teacher. It was not a grandiose idea of changing the world, it was because my PE teacher had a sports car and I loved it. She was dead kind and gave me my first chocolate orange.

“The kindness of a trendy teacher with a nice car and a nice home who took an interest in me made me think I’d like to be like her.”

As a teenager, Gloria excelled at athletics, appearing on the front page of the ECHO in 1978 after becoming Merseyside sprinting champion.

When she left school, Gloria decided to take up teacher training to become a PE and English teacher, although while training for her degree she came up against challenges including institutional racism. She says she was spurred on by colleagues who backed her and supported her and she completed her studies.

Going to work in tough city comprehensives, Gloria was determined not to shy away from the most challenging of school environments.

in 1993 she became involved in Elimu Study School and in 1998 it was renamed Elimu Academy and she took on the role of Head Teacher. Originally set up in 1979, as the Elimu Wa Nane, it had been a library resource at the Methodist centre on Princes Avenue, with Wally Brown, former head of Liverpool Community College and activist Dorothy Kuya as founding members.

Gloria said: “It was set up as a library resource for kids to come in and make use of and by the time I came to it it was an afterschool too.

“We used to do needlework, informal education – my challenge was to see if we could make it sustainable as a school, so I said let’s do the national curriculum.”

Gloria said it took years to receive school status, with the Elimu becoming a unique kind of independent school, which moved to Dove Street.

She said: “It was a pupil referral unit but we did reintegration so got children back into school. It was independent but not like you’d imagine independent schools to be, which tended to charge fees and be usually for those with high status.

“We were an independent school but not fee paying. We had 25 different funding and income generating streams and we worked with other headteachers around behaviour management and curriculum delivery, so we also shaped and had an impact on mainstream education.

“We also did adult training, training teachers, mentors and classroom assistants – we made a big impact as a team and kept strong for many years.”

Gloria Hyatt MBE (Image: Dan Kenyon)

Gloria explained how her experiences within the mainstream education sector inspired her decision to run her own academy.

She said: “I became a head as I was so dissatisfied with the education system and what it was doing for young people, not just those excluded. We also had high achievers coming after school and getting taught confidence.

“I’m into motivation and telling people about their heritage and teaching resilience and I wanted the children to see they could do more than what was expected of them and I wanted them to have teachers who looked like them.”

The school received excellent inspection results and continued to thrive until a change in government policy led to cuts to pupil referral units. Despite its ‘outstanding’ rating, the writing was on the wall for Elimu and the school eventually closed around 2004.

For the past 15 years, Gloria, who was awarded Merseyside Woman of the Year and an MBE in 2003 for services to education, has run her own business, providing training and consultancy services for individuals, organisations and institutions from the deputy prime minister’s office to former chief constables.

She remains passionate about creating opportunities and educating institutions in how to become welcoming environments to a more diverse workforce, challenging stereotypes around roles for Black leaders and encouraging Black leadership across the city and beyond through her organisation Teach Consultancy.

She said: “I’m celebrating 15 years in my own business, it doesn’t feel like it – I set it up because I had the desire to impact the education system beyond the city.

“I’m doing seminars, training and teaching people to stimulate conversations about change. In terms of wanting to work around change, I’m not a street protester, my work is being in education as it is impactful and sustainable.

“At Elimu, I always said to our team we are here to challenge the stereotype of Black people being underachievers in education and overachievers in arts and sport – that’s what was available not because we were particularly good at sports or arts but these were the types of positions which were made available.

“I think it’s really important that institutions should have Black leaders and we as people should get used to it – in this city it is not a norm. It is in charities and community institutions, but not elsewhere in positions of leadership and that needs to change.

“To me it’s not about making white people feel guilty or go on anti-racist training or sensitivity training but about Black people being part of the institutions, the debates and contributing as leaders.”

Gloria spoke of her involvement with the Black Leaders Movement, recently set up by Paul Sesay, who also established the National Diversity Awards.

She said: “I think Black Leadership should be the norm – what I like is he has loads of national organisations working together, institutions who have made a commitment to that to see how we can work more closely and be part of the movement.

“It’s interesting to see what’s going to happen with it, with institutions all working together to become more diverse and inclusive, and that is something to which I can bring skills and expertise.”

Gloria has also recently been invited to be part of a panel at University of Liverpool aimed at tackling racial inequalities within the university.

She said: “I did my masters of education at the University of Liverpool and received Merseyside Woman of the Year through their sponsorship so I’m really pleased to be joining their panel to redress the balances.”

Gloria is also working on projects in America, including with Liverpool-born academic Dr Stephen Small, who is based at the University of Berkeley in California and Gloria also sits on the parliamentary group for axial spondyloarthritis, a condition with which she has personal experience.

She said: “Like so many things it’s about improving dialogue, education and care of patients with this condition – it has impacted my life but it hasn’t stopped me, it may have slowed me down a little but I just keep on going.”