Tales from the City
Once a fortnight a dapper city gent turns up at Morpeth School in the East End of London to meet a group of four year 11 pupils. For 45 minutes he talks to them about his work for the Lloyd's insurance market, asks them what progress they are making towards their GCSEs, and offers tips on how to make money from stocks and shares.
Andrew Fleming Williams is a business mentor, one of eight City high-flyers who regularly visit the school in Bethnal Green. It may seem odd that a deprived, inner-city school and a firm of Lloyd's underwriters are neighbours, but the City is just a mile down the road. If a Morpeth school-leaver landed a job at Mr Fleming Williams's company, Kiln and Co, they could easily walk to work.
Until the mentoring scheme started (WHEN?) it is most unlikely any of the school's former pupils had heard of Kiln and Co. In fact, very few Morpeth pupils ever go anywhere near the City. For all its proximity, the world of five-figure bonuses and fast cars might as well be on Mars.
Last year, Mr Fleming Williams provided work experience for a Morpeth group and was so impressed he told one of them to keep in touch and contact the company for a job after she had finished her A-levels.
He says: "It's as if there's an enormous iron curtain down Brick Lane dividing the East End from the City. Yet there's no reason why these people shouldn't work here if they have the confidence and can make the grade." Developing confidence and broadening horizons is what business mentoring is all about.
So what do the Morpeth mentees make of their man in a pin-stripe suit?
The group - two boys and two girls - appreciate Mr Fleming Williams's interest and accept him as someone who is genuinely interested in their future. One of the girls, Caroline, says: "He is helping us understand the wider opportunities when we leave school." Belaeth says: "When you need help you can go to him."
And the boys? "I didn't know anything about the stockmarket or the Financial Times," says Jamie. "He's helped us to choose five companies, and we're going to keep track of their share prices. He's going to give a prize to whoever makes the biggest gain."
Sabir says: "He's asked us what we want to do in future, which college we'd like to go to and he's explained what a competitive place work is."
An old hand at mentoring, Mr Fleming Williams takes pleasure from seeing school improvement at first hand. Last year, Morpeth was recognised by the Department for Education and Employment as one of the four most improved schools in the country, and no visitor arriving at the school can fail to notice the good humour and sense of purpose among the pupils.
"When you think five years ago the A-C pass rate was negligible and the truancy rate was high. It's a different place now," Mr Fleming Williams says.
Alasdair Macdonald, the headteacher, says: "Business mentoring is an important part of what we're doing, and these people are very committed to it. We've never had a last-minute phone call to tell us they have had to cancel or re-arrange."
Mentees are chosen by form tutors as individuals most likely to benefit from being challenged and who need the stimulus to improve their grades. But the school also assigns each pupil a staff mentor who works through progress in the GCSE year and listens to problems.