i Editor's Letter: Heading back to school


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The Independent Online


Today, I’m going back to my old school for the first time since I walked out with my A-level results. The reason: we at i have decided to help an excellent charity which sends former state school pupils – from all trades and professions – back to their almae matres. We’re not looking for any money from readers, but if you’d like to know more, we’ll be able to tell you next week.

Independent schools invite speakers to address their students all the time. They also maintain networks of alumni who are able to inspire, raise aspirations, give careers advice and arrange work experience. This charity, Future First, aims to emulate these wonderful private school successes – for the state sector. Level the playing field a bit.

So we decided I had better give it a go myself. Can’t endorse something you haven’t tried. I’ll be standing in front of 150 students at Cedars, Leighton Buzzard, for a grilling about journalism and jobs, and i’s editorial director Chris Blackhurst heads to Cumbria tomorrow to talk with students at his former school in Barrow.

It’s terrifying, much harder than going on television. I’ve run workshops for teenagers in London and they ask blunt, tough questions – how often do you stretch the truth, how much do you earn, what’s the worst thing you’ve done, can I have a job.

While clearing my childhood bedroom on Saturday (yesterday’s Letter), I happened upon the original note I’d made of my first conversation with an Actual Journalist. I was 15. He was Tony Boullemier, a 53-year-old Geordie scribe and Northampton press tycoon known to my history teacher.

Among much practical advice and confidence-boosting rhetoric (“Oliver Duff – that is a very good byline”) he called me to task for a slow intro on my write-up of a school trip. “You could get into your story quicker,” he said. “Grab the reader by the collar!” Today, if I’m asked, I’ll add one piece of advice to that: work hard and try to make your own luck.


Twitter.com: @olyduff