When did you first decide an academic school subject wasn’t for you? Perhaps it was the day everyone laughed at your French accent? Or when the English teacher made you read Catcher in the rye? (You have my sympathy – that boy needs to get over himself).
Mine was in during a physics lesson on a hot summer day, when Mr Redmond was once again attempting to convince me to do science A-level.
“You could become an engineer,” he said, “like my daughter. She’s studying it at university, and she’s going to spend her summer in a ball-bearing factory”. It was right then, with visions of an youthful Alison Redmond (I have no idea if this was her name), bored out of her head, sitting in a boiling hot factory counting ball bearings all summer long that I determined I would never, ever be an engineer.
Poor Mr Redmond. On reflection, he never said she’d be counting them. And he was genuinely trying to help. But teen minds are fickle things and with one sentence he evaporated any chance of my becoming a science teacher.
I know an underwater cartographer. I’ve often wondered which careers advisor would spot that potential
The Careers and Enterprise Company has had tens of millions handed to it since 2014. In return, it has organised a lot of people, and a lot of events, and a lot of resources. One of its favourite statistics is that research from the Education and Employers Taskforce shows that a young person who has four or more meaningful encounters with an employer while at school is 85 per cent less likely to be unemployed in future.
Imagine if, once a year, form tutors brought someone in from among their family or friendship group who does a job – any job – to spend time showing something about their workplace. Then, the following week, pupils could facetime the person at their workplace. Stick it on the whiteboard. Show everyone. Have the adult whizz around their colleagues getting hellos for the kid.
If schools did this once a year every year, by the age of 16, pupils would have met people doing 11 jobs and seen all their workplaces. And it wouldn’t cost a penny.
I know an underwater cartographer. I’ve often wondered which careers advisor would spot that potential: “Well Jemma, I can see you like geography, and also swimming, so have I got the job for you!”
In all the profile interviews I’ve done for Schools Week – well over 50 – only one person ever said they took a job because the careers advisor told them to do it. And wouldn’t you know, it was Nick Gibb. In his final year at university he went to the careers service and someone told him he should be a tax advisor. So that’s what he did. Sometimes I wish she’d told him to work as a Montessori teacher.
If anyone reading this piece knows Mr Redmond, I want you to tell him all was not lost.
Before I came into teaching, when I was working a soulless office job, I did an Open University course in engineering for a year, sitting in night school classrooms with blokes from the local factories. I wanted to find out if it was really all about ball bearings, or if there was more to it.
Teachers really are the best careers advisors. They turn us onto, or away from, entire life paths in a sentence. Though they may never know which way, ultimately, it will go.
Laura McInerney is contributing editor of Schools Week