Why I decided to go Back to School

The i newspaper in association with Future First is launching a campaign to help encourage people to return to their state schools to offer insights about their lives and careers to students. In this article the i’s editor, Oliver Duff, explains what happened when we went back to his old school…

…Last week, 12 years after I’d walked out of Cedars Upper School without a glance over my shoulder, I went back for the first time. It was spooky; the same but different. I was there to talk to 130 sixth-formers about jobs and life beyond the school gates.

Why did I bother? Well, i is launching a “Back to School” campaign with the social enterprise charity Future First, to encourage more people who went to state schools – from all trades and professions, whether they left education at 16 or 36 – to return and speak to students at their old school. The charity already has 50,000 ex-pupils on its Back to School network; we want to build on that progress.

We’ve all heard how tricky the jobs market is for young people leaving school or uni. We also know that public schools invite speakers in to address their students all the time. Fee-paying schools are very successful at staying in touch with their old pupils – and these alumni then help to inspire students, raise aspirations, give practical careers advice and even arrange work experience.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if something like that could happen in Britain’s state schools? If it wasn’t the preserve of a private education? Level the playing field a bit?

Well, the good news is that state schools can emulate the success of the private sector here. Indeed, some state schools already are, either independently – or with the help of charities like Future First, which matchmakes a school with its former pupils who have signed up online. Over the next few days we’ll hear from state headteachers who are taking great pride in working more closely with their old students, bringing them back to speak to teenagers. Hairdressers, doctors, plumbers, authors, social workers, barristers, chefs, musicians… all of them offering insight beyond the formal curriculum.

For some people, the idea of returning to their old school is nightmarish. Fans of Alan Partridge will remember that disastrous visit to his alma mater. I was nervous about going back to Cedars. Would 16- and 17-year-olds really want to hear from me for two hours? Sounds like third prize in a bad raffle.

I need not have worried. The hall was packed. Five minutes in, a hand shot up. “How can I become a war correspondent?” We were off.

Future First sends “facilitators” to help run sessions, be they for small groups or large assemblies. At Cedars, Debbie Penglis, a former head of psychology who now works for our partner charity, directed things with enthusiasm and military precision.

Most of the sixth-formers didn’t want to be journalists. Instead they’d come to listen to someone who grew up down the road, who sat in front of the same teachers, drank at the same pubs, and somehow got out. They are keenly aware of the scramble for jobs and the cost of getting a degree.

I told a few colourful stories about the Olympics and London bombings, the near-deaths of various overseas colleagues and how I got to meet Arsene Wenger. But the rest of the session we turned over to their questions – and they had a lot. (For a flavour, see the Cedars sixth-formers’ list below this article.)

They came up with media strategies for a campaign. A Lord Kitchener-style poster with students pointing: “Your old school needs you! Inspire the next generation today.” Or: “Revisit your past. Help our future.” The bell went for break.

Many of my contemporaries were cleverer and quicker than me, but never received the encouragement and practical help I did. When I was 15, bumbling around, unsure of what to do with my life, we received a visit at school from Mick King, the news editor of the Leighton Buzzard Observer. He urged a few of us to submit articles, and went on to print half a dozen of mine. When I recently threw out my archived newspapers, they were the only press cuttings I kept. Looking back, I remember how exciting it was to talk to a real journalist, and then to see my name in print. Without his encouragement it’s doubtful I would have caught the bug. Thanks Mick.

Visit ind.pn/backtoschool for more information about the Back to School initiaitve

More (including the list of the students’ questions) at:  Why I decided to go Back to School

See also from the i newspaper:

Back to School: What is the campaign?

i Editor’s Letter: Why we’re launching a back to school campaign

Learn more about Future First here or follow @FutureFirstOrg

What do you think of this campaign by the i newspaper? Would you welcome more former pupils back to your school to act as ‘relatable role models’? If you’ve tried it, what impact has it had? Please share in the comments or on twitter… 

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Comments

  1. artmadnana

    SchoolsImprove what a brilliant idea! It certainly might help to ‘level the playing field’ at least chip away at it. Good luck.

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