To mark Black History Month 2022, we are sharing the inspirational story of Floyd Steadman, the former Head of four Cognita schools in the UK who retired in 2020.

Floyd Steadman (pictured above left with England rugby player, Maro Itoje) is a well-known and well-respected figure within our Cognita community in the UK, having led four of our schools during his 14-year career with us. But even those who know him may not be aware of his remarkable story. Floyd has battled against the odds for much of his life, fighting adversity and breaking down barriers to achieve firsts as a black man on the rugby pitch and within education. Last year, Floyd was quite rightly described as a trailblazer by Sky Sports in a feature about his inspirational story. Luckily for us, Floyd decided to tell us his story through his autobiography A Week One Summer, in honour of his late wife Denise who sadly passed away from cancer. Denise had been Head of Inclusion at a large primary school in the UK and she was very keen for Floyd to share his unique story because she felt that others would benefit from hearing it.

Having had an incredibly difficult start in life with an abusive father, Floyd moved into the care system at the age of ten. He then had to fight against prejudices at the time to stay within education because he knew he wanted to be a teacher. His resilience and determination spurred him on to achieve great things on the sports pitch and within education. The first black scrum-half and captain of Saracens rugby team. The first black teacher at St Paul’s School in London. The second black Headteacher at a UK independent school (at our very own Salcombe Preparatory School in London). Floyd’s experiences as a leader on the rugby pitch helped to prepare him for leadership roles in schools. He worked out how to get the best out of his team. He listened and he adapted. Many felt that Floyd should have played for England but at that time, most players came from Harlequins, Bath, Leicester and Wasps, not Saracens. Perhaps it was too early to select a black player then too.

Floyd remains grateful to the founder of Cognita, Sir Chris Woodhead, for giving him his first Headteacher appointment when he joined Cognita in 2006. It was the right decision. Floyd went on to lead three other Cognita schools successfully – Downsend, Clifton Lodge and Cumnor House – inspiring many students (including Maro Itoje) and colleagues before his retirement in 2020. His experience and expertise were greatly valued beyond Cognita as an Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) inspector.

Floyd puts his success down to his desire to ‘be the best person I can be’ and the ability to believe in himself when others weren’t so sure. He could so easily be bitter about the challenges and abuse that have been thrown at him during his life. Instead, he chose to rise above them, becoming a true leader, showing a masterclass of resilience, and using his experiences to spur him on to achieve many successes on and off the pitch. We can all learn a great deal from him.

When asked what piece of advice he would give to colleagues in Cognita, his response was simple: ‘We all have knockbacks. It’s how we respond to those challenges that makes the difference. I hope I am able to show people how to respond.’

Floyd is now an independent education consultant who specialises in diversity, equality and inclusion.

To read more about Floyd’s inspirational story, his book A Week One Summer is available to buy on Amazon and in Waterstones for those based in the UK.