Educational inequality and helping young people fulfil their goals
I recently volunteered as a professional at the Future Frontiers Careers Networking Event, held at City, University of London. The event allowed pupils from low income families, between the ages of 13-18, to get a first-hand look into the world of work. It was suggested that my presence would really make a difference in the lives of the pupils. I wasn’t convinced – what did I have to offer, in a 5-10-minute conversation, that someone couldn’t google?
Although I come from a working-class background, to be honest, my existence has been pretty much one of acceptable affluency. Certainly not Alan Sugar, or even Alan Titchmarsh for that matter, but not what I would think of as low income. As a child I had a good education, typically had a holiday most years and was well fed and clothed. Nowadays my family and I do not usually go without. My children receive a good education and they mix in a social network of people with acceptable affluency. I was therefore a little naive to the fact that according to Teach First ‘Millions of British children live in poverty. Only one in three is likely to achieve basic school grades. Yet twice as many of their wealthier peers do so’. Poverty at this scale is something I thought was behind us in the UK. Clearly not!
I was equally surprised to hear Teach First confirm that ‘the link between low income and low academic attainment is greater in the UK than almost any other developed nation. Children eligible for free school meals are less likely to get good GCSEs and go on to higher education. This makes it more likely they will struggle throughout their lives, widening social inequality’. Surely, every child deserves an equal opportunity to succeed? So, I was pleased to offer my help to such a great cause, whatever I could bring to the table.
It is important to recognise that for many of the pupils this was one of their first in-person interactions with professionals, and as such some were very shy and withdrawn. As you might expect there were also some very switched on and confident children too. The event was aimed at broadening the pupil’s horizons to the world of work.
Not every pupil wanted to necessarily have a career as a financial planner. In fact, I doubt any of them did – who realistically does? But I wasn’t there to convince any of them to become a financial planner.
One particular year 9 pupil stuck in my mind that day. He was young and particularly shy. Our conversation was stunted and I was not very confident that I was adding any value. I called on my financial planning experience and probed a little more. I asked him “what’s important to you?”. He responded “dragons”. It was not a response I was expecting and was a little taken aback I must confess. “What is it about dragon’s that is important to you?” I said. He replied “I like to draw them”. Now, we were getting somewhere I thought to myself. Cutting a 10-minute conversation short we chatted about how he could use his passion for dragons throughout his education and beyond. Together, we came up with some good ideas like being an illustrator or working in film and TV. Hopefully my small interaction was of value to this particular pupil. Simply having the conversation gave this young pupil a platform to explore his passion and hopefully consider that he can use his passion within a career.
In conclusion, my presence at the event was not about financial planning nor about offering an insight into finance. Instead merely the fact that I was present, willing to listen and simply able to offer these pupils the opportunity to interact, with a professional or just an adult, was enough. As the TV meerkat would say, “simples”. We often think that people want to hear lots of technical information and grandiose but to my mind it’s unnecessary. For most, I hope our interaction gave them the ‘headspace’ and impetus to get as much out of their education as they can so they can be the best they possibly can be.
In my experience, the most content clients I work with are the ones that following their passion or are simply doing what they want in life – using their money to help them achieve it. This is why I do what I do – interacting with people to help use their money smarter to help them live a fulfilled life. I hope the young year 9 pupil follows his passion and makes a living from it too. The same goes for all the pupils I was lucky enough to meet. Each of them talented and special in their own unique way just like my friends, family, clients and those I come into contact with.
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