Matthew Holehouse isn't sure if Saturday jobs improve grades, but they're an education in themselves
Brace yourself. You won't like this. I think pupils work harder than teachers. I admit that teaching is hardly a breeze. It's not like policemen have to do marking every night. And you don't get secretaries or corporate entertainment (unless you count the Christmas disco, although I hope that you don't). Plus, once you've finished looking after other people's children you have to go home and look after your own.
But teachers do get the weekend off, which is more than many of us do. A teacher complained in class late last term that she couldn't go shopping in Harrogate without being served by one of her sixth-form students who, she claimed, judge her on her purchases. It's a fair complaint ("It's for a friend," they mumble to the sales staff, pushing maroon cardigans across the counter), but one that proves my point. In between the pub and coursework, most of us have got jobs to go to.
Apparently someone in education research has proved that eight hours' paid work a week improves results by an average of a grade. Not that that in any way influenced my keenness as a Year 9 to find a job. With visions of having enough money at the end of Easter holidays to buy any skateboard I chose, I wrote to every office in town. A local accountancy firm wrote back. The chain-smoking boss owned an E-Type Jag and a yacht, and was high up in the local Tory party. He hung "Keep the Pound" posters in the window and delighted in shouting down the phone at other companies' secretaries. I spent the summer in their hot basement, filing and shredding endless invoices, answering their mobiles for them when their wives rang, going to Asda to buy tea and The Daily Telegraph. Pay was cash-in-hand, produced from one of the tennis ball-sized rolls the boss kept about his office. I loved it.
The filing dried up, and I moved, briefly, into waiting. I think that no one should be allowed to eat in nice restaurants until they have done a year's waiting themselves. It would be a new sort of National Service, to help people realise that young waiters don't keep their food sitting in the kitchen or bring the wrong wine on purpose. Little lunchtime cafes are probably fairly relaxed places to work, but the fancy, Michelin-star-gazing establishments with pound;25 courses and "dining concepts" are pretty nasty. I worked under a well known TV chef's obese chav cousin. Think Johnny Vegas meets 1950s drill sergeant who, somewhat implausibly, happens to sculpt French cuisine for a living. A seasonal medley of Chef, long hours, scorching kitchens and icy-cold customers were just what I didn't need after an afternoon's double chemistry.
I quickly moved on, and found a job at the local branch of Waterstone's. It was probably the nicest Saturday job I could hope to have. There were books stacked ceiling-high, friendly customers who spoke in library whispers (OK, there was the man who demanded we removed the "satanic" Harry Potters, and then the 10-year-old shoplifters), above minimum wage pay, a weighty discount, and a boss who was, well, nice. Standing behind the counter, people assume that you are a literary expert rather than just the Saturday boy doing AS-level English. "It had a man and a woman in it... and there was a house... and a dog called Sammy. I think I read it in the winter of 1952I don't you have it?"
Is there some value in a Saturday job, beyond just the wages? Concentration, time management and discipline probably fit in somewhere.
I'm not sure exactly how much shelf stacking really improves essay writing.
Though I can recommend the duck. And the new JK Rowling? Probably worth waiting for the paperback.
Matthew Holehouse has just finished Year 12 at Harrogate grammar school.
His column will run throughout the summer