Top grades equal success? It's a 'lie', politician says

17th May 2013 at 01:00

Telling disadvantaged young people that gaining top grades will inevitably lead to success in high-flying careers, including law and banking, is a "lie", according to one of Britain's most prominent black politicians.

David Lammy, MP for Tottenham in North London, said that older students from poor homes need additional assistance towards the end of their schooling and at university to help them break into the corporate world. Without it they can be left feeling "shell-shocked" and "out of context" when starting work, he explained.

Mr Lammy, who was the first black Briton to study for a master's degree in law at Harvard Law School in the US, was speaking at the launch of the Social Mobility Foundation's new City Talent Initiative in London, which will offer support and internships to talented 16- to 18-year-olds who want to work at leading firms in the City of London.

"There's a conceit, a bit of a white lie, on the part of our system . that if you work really, really hard, you get As and A*s in A levels, you go to university, you get a first or a 2:1 and you want to go to the City in some shape, the door will be open for you and all will be fine," Mr Lammy said. "I falsely believed that once (but) we understand now it's not as simple as that. You can come from a working-class or poorer background, you can get the As, do really well in class, but when you go to the City or corporate environment you can experience feeling shell-shocked, feeling out of context."

Mr Lammy, who was raised by a single mother in Tottenham, one of London's most deprived areas, added: "That was my experience as a young lawyer, and I'm so grateful to senior lawyers at the time who helped me understand that I shouldn't have that huge, big Michael Jackson hairstyle I had.

"Some of the ways of being that are appropriate, you have to acquire that as well. We all need that kind of mentoring and support."

The initiative is one of a growing number of schemes to support social mobility that will be monitored by the UK government-backed Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.

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