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26th August 2011 at 01:00
BBC man enlists famous faces to speak in schools

As the BBC's business editor, journalist Robert Peston is used to working his contacts to land scoops on everything from the credit crunch to phone hacking.

But he is now using his extensive list of connections to persuade actors, politicians, broadcasters and business leaders to give him something else - a pledge to visit schools as part of his new venture to get inspirational speakers in front of pupils.

Mr Peston's charity, Speakers for Schools, which launches in October, has already signed up 700 names, including the prime minister and the rest of the Cabinet, comedian Arabella Weir, actor David Morrissey, and BBC colleagues including Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman and The Culture Show's Lauren Laverne.

Numerous other names from the arts, science and sport have also agreed to visit state schools to give them access to leading figures - an experience that Mr Peston fears is too often the reserve of private schools.

"I'd been getting invitations to speak at public schools such as Eton and Harrow and very few were from the kind of school I went to, which was a comprehensive called Highgate Wood," said Mr Peston.

"It was very much a mixed comprehensive, with people from all different backgrounds. I'm a great supporter of those sorts of schools.

"It was very depressing that very few schools were getting in touch and asking for me to come and talk to their students. I thought I would try to make it easier for state schools."

He said he hoped the talks would be useful for pupils and would provide them with a "soft networking advantage".

"I think the most valuable part is that when people who have made it go into schools, particularly challenging schools, it gives a very clear message to students that they are valued. It gives them a sense that they really matter."

Mr Peston - who was political editor and banking editor of the Financial Times before joining the BBC - said he had a good book of contacts to help him out. "I am lucky enough to know a vast number of influential people and could persuade them to make the commitment," he said.

One of Mr Peston's perhaps more surprising signings is former Downing Street communications director Alastair Campbell - even though Tony Blair's spinner-in-chief once reportedly responded to a question from the journalist by saying: "Another question from the Peston school of smart- arse journalism."

Speakers for Schools is supported by charity the Education and Employers Taskforce. A website allows schools to view the list of the people that have signed up and apply for a speaker to talk at their school. The service is for secondary schools but as the number of speakers grows it will look to be extended to primary schools.



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