Monday, 16 March 2009

Work Experience

Year 10s, that is 14 to 15 year olds in the UK, have to do a week of work experience towards the end of the school year, in June.
My teen goes to a private school. I can't afford it. We go without basic necessities (new shoes!) in order to pay the fees. Why have I done this? Several reasons, not all of them decent.
  • She's half French. Her French father not being around, the only way I could ensure she would speak fluent French is by sending her to a French school which just happens to be private.
  • I want the best education for my child. I feel she is disadvantaged in some ways and I want to give her a chance.
  • I don't want her to go to the local comprehensive. And here's the rub. It's an inner city school. 50% of its pupils do not speak English as a first language. Many of them are refugees from war zones and have severe mental health problems as a result. The teachers are over-worked, physically attacked and have to please a government obsessed with targets and paperwork. But the educational goals are low, in an attempt to cater for everybody. In a country where accent is everything and peer pressure is the single most important influence on a teen, I don't want her to speak 'street' talk. The police patrol outside every day. I know some of this first hand because I sent my daughter to the local state primary for a year, reportedly the best in the borough according to league tables. It was awful. The teacher could not spell. When my daughter told me that some kids (in uniform and easily identifiable) were nicking from local shops naturally I told the head. The head teacher clumsily made it clear to the rest of the kids (despite pleas from me) who had 'grassed' them up. My daughter's mobile phone was stolen that afternoon. The head did nothing. Bullies and naughty kids were constantly appeased with rewards. Good/quiet kids got scarce attention.
So, for the above reasons, and contrary to my political views, I chose private.
However this work experience at her private school makes me sick to the stomach. Evidently many of the parents are well-off and seriously connected. The children of these parents get to work for the BBC, top fashion designers, pop stars, film directors...and who can blame them? They, like me, are trying to give their kids a head-start in a tough world. Who am I to complain about privilege when I have 'gone private'?
I simply don't have those kind of connections. I cannot provide that opportunity for my daughter. I feel terrible about that. But also what should be simply a chance to learn about the world of work has turned into oneupmanship amongst the pupils. 
I pay the school fees but I can't keep up. 
My daughter doesn't help of course winding me up with statements like:
"When I leave school I'm going to be on the dole"


  1. Bugger that. What does she like to do? My son phoned up all the local architects' offices and spent a happy fortnight pottling about with big drawing boards, rulers and a hard at. All she needs to do is call companies big enough to adhere to the H&S requirements

  2. Thanks Nicky.
    That's what I've told her to do. Show a bit of dynamism. But she's in a nihilist phase right now. Hope it doesn't last.

  3. Nothing wrong with going on the dole, that's what I did very soon after leaving school, a few dead end labouring jobs before it - but then I went to a secondary school, I didn't have a private education of course... But still don't forget that old revolutionary slogan 'Never Work'. Hey you're daughter sounds alright!

  4. Being on the dole is shit. But if she wants to learn that from direct experience then at least it will be a lasting lesson.

    She could do worse than look at charities and not for profits. Animals? Environment? Arts? Human Rights? International Development? Sport? Health? Community Cohesion?

    Let me know if you want some suggestions, or I could ask at my place


  5. Oh being on the dole is only bad if you haven't got anything you want to do with your time. But of course the money ain't wot it used to be back in the late-seventies when I first signed on....

  6. You're lucky she wants to go on the dole. A mate of mine's daughter (14) was winding him up by telling him she'd heard on the radio that a schoolgirl was getting paid £10,000 a month to shag men and so that's what she wanted to do.

    She's doing her w/e at a garden centre. Why don't you ring the jobcentre and see if you can get her work experience there. It may help her in her chosen career.

  7. Lol Rog. Good one! I will definitely suggest that.
    Mr Trippy. I remember leaving school and going to the dole office. I was told by others that when they asked what sort of job you'd like, to answer "Brain surgeon" or "Rocket Scientist". That way they couldn't give you a job as it was too specialised.
    So I went in. Said this with a straight face. And it worked!
    Every week Mike Barson of Madness and I queued up to sign on. Most British pop stars were born from the dole queue.
    When I left school, it was the Thatcher era and 3 million unemployed.
    I fear that it may be the same or worse for my daughter.

  8. What gets me is, how can anybody know what they want to be 'experienced' in - let alone work at! - at such a young age? I'm with Canal Explorer on this one, though: the charity/voluntary sector can at least supply your daughter with a 'real life' experience. Having said that, I did my work experience - unofficially, might I add - as a guitar tech with a hilarious pomp rock band who skimmed the charts in the mid-80s. Best not tell your daughter that, though - signing on is probably a much safer option! Or you could put her to work in your kitchen...

  9. I left university in 1980, the first year when graduates did not inevitably get a job. I tried, but also went to the dole office - one whiff of the smell of desperation, and the red linoleum, and I backed out fast into any job (in a shop, as a receptionist) that would have me. There are also lots of charities that would welcome work experience from her - my teens did this, and other things in shops and offices. It is all experience... so what that the other kids are connected.

  10. Thanks animal and hodmandod for your comments.
    Animal disco, I want to know what band!
    hodman: your husband is Thoby Young. That's not Toby Young is it?
    Yes dole offices are depressing. I'd like her to avoid that if she can.

  11. No husband is different Thoby Young, but they have been confused since birth including by me!

  12. Dole offices are in one of their happy smiley plants flowers and friendly desks pahses, but no doubt with the coming unemployment someone will go off the deep end once again, and they will go back to the armoured glass and speaking through secured windows design once again.

    I'm sure there's something out there she must want to do.

  13. It's selfish of me, but I get a certain satisfaction out of these posts about your daughter, ML. Why? Because it reminds me I'm not the only one having trouble bringing up a teenage girl! It can feel pretty lonely at times!

    Seriously though: At her age I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up. If I'd been asked that question at 14 I'd probably have given the same answer. The world of work is a hostile and intimidating place and its tempting, especially when your a kid, not to have anything to do with it.

  14. Ben, that is exactly why I write this blog. So we know we are not alone! But I think the term for what you are feeling is schadenfreude. lol. A very pleasurable feeling.

  15. Mr-ceebs fortunately it is some time since I went in a dole office. But is it all comfy cushions and cable telly now?

  16. Orange red and blue modern art furniture, computerised terminals to let you check the available jobs, and print out the equivalent of the old cards on the wall, free phones to call employers, and plasma screens displaying jobs. Typical office desks with frosted screens to block you off from your neighbours. The same old mix of staff who are divided between people with the attitude that makes them seem like a favourite grandma who you come away surprised they havent given you a boiled sweet at the end of the interview, and others who seem to get their one pleasure in life from being unneccessarily disruptive and try everything to make your life difficult.

  17. Marms,

    I knew exactly what I wanted to be at age 14. Unfortunately, there was no vacancy for a second Joey Ramone.

    When I figure out what sensible career I want, I'll let you know. Mind you I used to always be dropping in to the Golders Green job centre for training advice in early 80's, I fancied the pants off the girl who ran it. Mind you she always knocked me back, she wanted a boyfriend with a job.

  18. Being on the dole is nice for about 2 months. Pottering around doing all those 'other things' you want to do is lovely, but you know what, it just isn't enough money to live on. Unless she wants to live in a hovel. And share. And after that it gets so depressing. Everyone asks 'what do you do?'. 'I'm unemployed' loses novelty appeal pretty quickly, even if full of joy when it first happens.

    Yes, dole offices are trying, bless them - nice orange furniture and that, but they still stink of desperation. They still don't know what to do with you if you've ever actually had a decent job and/or any qualifications, and the jobs on their posh touch screen computers are either shop work or £14k admin for shifty back offices.

    Tell her to get one good job, do it for a bit, then sign on afterwards. a) she'll have something to compare it to, and b) they won't be able to force her into a shit job because they have to find you something at the salary you were on previously.

    For my work experience I helped out a friend of my mum on her stall in Manchester Arndale Market. I did 2 days unpaid work for her, took the rest as free holidays, everyone's a winner (my mum approved of this, as I was already experienced in holiday work, so what was the point in my labouring away unpaid for the full 2 weeks?).



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