'Following your dreams sadly remains far too often a privilege of wealth or family background'

2nd June 2014 at 16:00

Andrew Law, chairman of Speakers for Schools, and chairman and CEO of Caxton Associates, writes:

Recent news that youth unemployment has fallen to its lowest figure in five years is welcome. However, when it comes to choosing a career, having the chance to pursue your passions or follow your dreams sadly remains far too often a privilege of wealth or family background. 

That’s why I believe that the need for every young person to have role models – especially those who come from similar backgrounds and can illuminate those previously unlit career pathways – is equally as important as the government's objective of providing better education for all. 

This is what Speakers For Schools was created in 2011 to do – giving state students across the country the chance to engage with a wide variety of inspirational and influential leaders who can expand their horizons and convince them to "dream big".

We recently marked our 1,000th talk and every one of our Speakers – whether they be or scientist or entrepreneur, poet or journalist – sets out to challenge their audience and embed a belief that they can do anything they want if they work hard enough.

American educationalist Robert H Shaffer once said: "We must view young people not as empty bottles to be filled, but as candles to be lit." Listening to an unforgettable speaker or discovering a stimulating role model ignites that candle, and this external stimulation should be a fundamental part of every student's experience.

Teachers do an incredible job, but the onus on delivering inspirational moments should not fall on them alone – how can it, given everything they already do? In fact, our research found that 71 per cent of teachers believe that leaders and influential people "have a responsibility" to motivate young people to succeed.

And business recognises the benefits too. A report by the CBI calculates that enhancing the student experience through improvements like better school engagement "could add £8 trillion to the British economy over the lifetime of a child born today, the equivalent of one percentage point on growth every year". The CBI is working with Speakers for Schools to help drive this change forward.

But it's the individual impact that chiefly motivates us. It's the thought of a student who hears one of our speakers at their school and is inspired to act – choosing that career path, applying for an apprenticeship or selecting a university.

Of course, academic success is in no way a barrier to success and happiness in many different disciplines, and there are numerous examples of university dropouts who have had incredible entrepreneurial success. But it is a proven route to success for the majority.

You need only look to our universities to see the impact of raising state students' aspirations, and the talent that exists. The most brilliant students will typically do very well whatever schooling they receive, but the very good ones do not necessarily have the clear pathway to succeed. 

Research by the Higher Education Funding Council for England reveals that state pupils now outperform privately educated students; specifically two-thirds of state pupils with grades B and C at A-level gain a first or upper second class degree – compared with just half of private pupils. Unleash the ambition and the results speak for themselves.

The potential in our state schools is limitless. The sheer talent I see whenever I return to my old school or other state comprehensives to speak with students is astounding – the key is supporting every one of them to make the most of their abilities. Recent years have been tough for young people and now it's the responsibility of my generation to do everything we can to help realise the potential of the next. Lighting that candle of inspiration in schools is a great place to start.




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