Why the work experience debate matters.



It’s easy to get swept up in angry righteousness about education issues. And some people of course, say things just to provoke a response.

By saying “Discriminate against job applicants from Eton,” Justine Greening is using a provocative, easy way to say, “think about social issues when selecting candidates for work experience.”

She has indeed stimulated a response, and there are lots of interesting discussions around the subject.  My top recommendations, for a bit of balance on this subject are:

Toby Young in the Spectator: “Justine Greening is wrong to pick on Eton.”

Sajid Javid in the Telegraph ‘Justine Greening has got it wrong. We just need more pushy parents’ (or words to that effect).

Both these discuss the subject from the point of view of children (fair enough) or upbringing (fair enough) or the education system (fair enough).

The voice which is completely missing from this whole debate is the employer.  Who’s actually providing these work experience places?  Who finds the kids something to do for their week of work experience?  Who fills out the school forms, so they can come, and looks after them when they turn up for work? Who shows them how to hold a pencil?!

Is this suddenly coming across a bit ranty?  It should do!  I’m not alone in my views.

A whole new education system is being developed which is based on having work experience at its core. A report from RM Education describing this new qualification, T Levels, said the following:

“The availability of work placements is the single most important factor that will determine whether T-levels can go ahead either locally, or for that matter at all.”

And here is the crux of the matter, my point:

“Our research shows that over a quarter (27 per cent) of Federation of Small Business members believe that schools and colleges do not acknowledge business considerations and constraints, such as time and resourcing issues, when trying to engage firms in activities like work experience.”

Remember we’re talking about school-age students.  It is massively time-consuming organising meaningful work experience for school students.  I am utterly determined to make it a valuable experience for each and every person who spends time with us, but I can tell you, it can be soul-destroying.

I can honestly say that I have had some kids who appear to have a problem holding a pencil. Experiences like that are shattering. For me I mean.  How can a child have such poor skills after so many years at school?  Is it my job to teach them the very, very basics?

We’ve had some work experience school children who were brilliant. Just as an FYI, the best and the worst have been from State school backgrounds.

On balance it is just a waste of time for me.  How many businesses can afford to keep wasting the time and good will of colleagues every year on work experience students?

Actually, I will never stop offering experiences and opportunities for young people of all backgrounds to work in our business, because I believe in helping others.

But politicians should stop making lazy remarks about work experience and education. I don’t think it moves things forward.

Why would anyone want to be a school governor?


It’s 11.30am and I’ve just made it to work, after two and a half hours in school governor related meetings at my local primary school.

I was there last night too, from 7.30 – 8.30pm in another governor related meeting.

I should be there again in five days time for another meeting of the full governing body which will last from 7.15 – 9.30pm, if it’s a quick one.

I feel genuinely sorry that I’ll be missing it.

I know I don’t put in half the hours some other governors do, and nothing compared to our Chairman.

How could these meetings, and the preparation required beforehand, possibly be worthwhile, when the work is piling up in my proper job, I run my own business and have to take care our own clients and staff before anything else?

Give it time

For the first three years I sat in meetings feeling alternately bewildered or bemused by the endless poring over metrics; the insane attention to policies and documentation, the crazy health and safety finger wagging; the endless worrying over details, individuals, results, testing. It took me three years to learn to speak school governor language.  The true linguists are in the Standards Committee, I’m a few years off that yet.

Nothing prepares you as an outsider from a commercial world for the intricacies and approach required to be a school governor.

But still the question, why?

Four values from being a school governor

  1. Sense of belonging and contribution to your society and local community
  2. Enhanced performance skills
  3. Direct experience and knowledge
  4. Demonstrating skills, building reputation and supporting new business

If you are contemplating being a governor and wonder how this can be possible, read the long explanation of each of these points below.

What I get from being a school governor.

First of all, I genuinely believe in working for the good of our society and my local community. Civic values.

I used to be embarrassed to admit it, but now I know it’s just part of my personality.  I get pleasure from helping other people, feeling involved, an insider.  There are worse personal qualities to have.

Secondly, I need to be busy to perform at my best.

Years ago I was being interviewed by Fiona Morris, Sales Director at The Guardian, for a job in the research team there.  Like the young ingenue, I was, in answer to the question “What is your greatest weakness?” I answered truthfully: “procrastination.”

Oh, how that answer would haunt me for years – nine – during my career at the newspaper.  Fiona never forgot, or let me forget those fateful words.  But to her credit, she employed me and went on to be a great mentor along with Caroline Marland and Carolyn McCall, and I am grateful to them all. It was an exciting time to be in newspaper publishing.

As I result of this I do know that I perform best when I have just the right amount of pressure and being a governor provides that time pressure perfectly.

Thirdly I learn things that make us better at our jobs.

Many of our clients are in education. Schools, universities, colleges, academies, trade bodies, publishers and so on.

Because I know what it’s like in a school we can write much more effectively, or develop much more effective campaigns for other schools or organisations that are trying to target them.  I’ve seen the waste bin in the school secretaries’ department; I know how busy the teaching staff are and the pressures they face; I’ve been through an Ofsted inspection.

Fourth and finally it I hope it brings new business.

By seeing the difference good PR and marketing can provide, through the work we deliver pro bono for my school, I hope it will support our own new business pipeline.

We have a proud reputation for creativity and effectiveness as a small, boutique PR agency at Twelve PR. I’m especially proud of the long relationships we have with our clients.  We value them enormously and are never complacent.  We must always be giving them the best possible service but at the same, we must also be looking for new clients too.

So I hope that the work we are putting out there for free through being a governor will, one day, bring some new paid business back to us.

In summary, I suppose it all comes down to karma.  I hope I haven’t jinxed it by saying it. Perhaps I should just re-brand it corporate social responsibility…

Check out the wonderful school I am proud to serve: Bloxham C of E Primary School.

Single sex education: a good idea?

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The debate about single-sex education consistently makes headlines. Just in the last week, the Swedish government proposed a ban on single-sex classrooms across all subjects. In the same week, another article claimed that attending a single-sex school increases a student’s chance of progressing to university.

So, with such contrasting views, how do you know if a single-sex education actually offers any benefit over a mixed-sex education? Which one is right for you or your child?

As a PR agency we represent a range of different educational organisations to their key stakeholders, and always look for the best each has to offer.  Across our team we have people who have experienced pretty much every type of education on offer, including comprehensives, grammar schools, private schools and international schools, so education is a topic we often discuss.

I was asked to write this blog post after one such discussion.

Personally, to answer the question ‘how do know what type of education is right for you or your child?’ I only need think back to being educated in an all-girls school for my whole education. I have no doubt that being in a single-sex environment led me to perform to the best of my academic ability. However, admittedly, I can only speculate as I never experienced mixed-sex schooling.

I know that for me, being in an all-girls school environment meant I was able to grow at my own pace, without the pressure to impress boys, be distracted, or feel self-conscious. I think I gained self-confidence from not having to compete with boys, and the school certainly supported a ‘can-do’ philosophy, encouraging us to make the most of every opportunity that came our way, and encouraging our career aspirations.

I strongly remember a culture of achievement at my school, where academic progress was very important, with no barriers to success. We had the opportunity to take the lead in fields such as engineering and science, which are often male-dominated in a co-educational environment. At a girl’s school, a girl occupies every role, offering a wide range of opportunities for self-exploration and development.

I do want to stress however, that I believe it’s very important to mix with boys outside a school setting, as of course, in the workplace, and in life, the two genders do co-exist and it is important not to feel daunted by the opposite sex. I joined a mixed hockey club outside of school and I found this a brilliant way of ensuring I was with boys regularly.

I thrived in an all-girls education, however I know it doesn’t work for everyone, and it’s important to consider each individual independently. I remember some of my peers resenting being in an all-girls environment, and several left after secondary school, choosing to go to the mixed school nearby for Sixth Form. I personally chose to remain at the school because, despite being curious and wanting to experience co-education, I knew that I would achieve the best results I could where I was.