Back to School: A visit to Aston Manor in Birmingham

'I understand what life is about now'

Children at Aston Manor Academy in Birmingham were among many across the country receiving visits from alumni for Back to School Week yesterday.

The group of former pupils, who included a comic book artist, a youth worker and a manager from Specsavers, offered advice and inspirational words that led both the shyest and most confident pupils declaring their high-flying aspirations.

Each speaker described in morning assembly how they rose to the top of their fields since they left Aston Manor, before heading to the library to speak to a selection of 12 and 13 year olds who their teachers had decided would benefit most from one-to-one time with the ex-pupils.

The guidance from the four speakers was clear, with 50 year old support worker Kenneth Guy urging children to “rob your teacher’s brains! Your only job is to get educated”. This was echoed by illustrator and designer Kevin Lee Bennett, aged 42, who told the children that although maths and English were not obviously connected to his work, they were vital to his achievements.

“As easy as at is for teachers to talk about careers, there is nothing quite like giving pupils the opportunity to speak to professionals that were also previous students,” said design and technology teacher Stacy Dooley.

Leon Henry, a 35-year-old technology and IT manager, admitted that he was a rebel at school who found it difficult to concentrate because he was easily influenced by others. He said he was impressed by the children’s focus. “They asked a lot of realistic questions about interview techniques and pay grades, things I would never have considered in year eight,” said Mr Henry.

Twelve-year-old Aniqah Asif said she was not certain yet if she wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor. But asked what she got from the talk, she said: “I understand what life is about now. If you want a job and you work hard, it pays off.”

James Walsh, a 41 year old opportunities manager at social business Bromford Support, said he was not surprised that the children in the workshops showed ambition. They gasped as he explained how his underprivileged background meant he had to peel potatoes at a chip shop for £1 an hour when he was 12. “Going to a state school like Aston Manor, I experienced things that my child who went to a grammar school would never know. I feel proud that I can sit around a table at a ministerial white paper review and put an angle on the discussion like no one else.”

All of the speakers boasted of the invaluable diversity their education offered them.  Tyrone Hyman, 38, said that while he felt that teachers were too busy to give in depth advice about the future, his time at what was then called Aston Manor School, means he feels comfortable with dealing with a variety of people day-to-day. Hyman, who works as a Production Designer at the BBC, said his job revealed to him that privilege and money does not stop a poor mentality.