Last night, as I listened to a very smartly turned out posh young man with an aristocratic-sounding name ask people on podiums a question about money, I had a rather alarming flashback. Suddenly, I was back giving a careers talk to a bunch of uniformed GCSE age youths at a particularly well-to-do High School on the outskirts of London (I know – Me. Careers advice. What were they thinking?). As narrative flashbacks go, it was pretty dull.
I’d taken my usual ‘wing it’ approach to the talk and done little preparation (‘it’s fine, it’s all quite informal and everyone in your group has chosen something science-y or nature-y for their work experience’, I was told). This was a mistake. When I arrived, inevitably they’d overbooked on ‘science’ speakers, so would I mind awfully talking to a different group?
Being the carefree, happy-go-lucky type of person I am (ahem), of course I didn’t mind. Just one question, I asked; what group is it I’ll be talking to? ‘Oh, it’s next years’ A-Level Economics class.’ Marvelous.
I spent the next half an hour talking about my career and how I got started and why I do it confronted by a sea of stony expressions (and I even dropped in the thing about the Wallabies). At the end, there was a lengthy pause, before the teachers asked for any questions. I don’t recall much of what followed, but two questions stick in my mind:
‘How much do you earn?’ (Asked, in different forms, at least twice).
‘Why did you spend all that time at University only to earn that much?
The fixation on salary had already been drilled into them. Convincing them that working for an environmental charity was a good career choice was a lost cause.
What did I learn from this? Well, to prepare properly for talks, for one. But also that when it comes to secondary school education, environmental education is usually one of the first things to go out the window. I was the only one asked to shift groups that day, and I took that as a sign that, as far as the teachers were concerned at least, what I did was not a realistic career option.
You can’t blame the teachers for this. If I could go all ‘The Wire – Season 4’ on you all for a moment, it’s clear their choices are guided by a rigid curriculum and a need to achieve quantifiable results. If you’ve worked in environmental outreach you probably don’t need me to tell you that as soon as children start to reach an ‘examinable’ age, then environmental education drops clean off the agenda.
Throughout the length of pre-school, primary school and the first stages of secondary school, environmental education plays a strong and significant part in a child’s schooling. After this, it’s passed off as very much being a ‘hobby’. This is why, as part of my election manifesto, I want to see a GCSE in wildlife introduced. Not Environmental Science, Wildlife (I took an A-Level in Environmental Science myself, but dropped it after completing an A/S as it was primarily about things like waste management and pollution).
So, was that whole Johnny Tudor thing at the top of the article just a conceit in order to link an article I’d already started to last night’s leaders debate?