The big questions: Should parents do more to get their children into work? Should interns get paid?

The questions are answered this week by writer Gill Hornby

Share

Your new book is in part an examination of competitive parenting. Haven’t parents always competed with each other via their children?

It is not really an examination of competitive parenting; it’s an examination of social relationships between a group of mothers in a primary school, during which there are plenty of observations of competitive parenting – naturally. It’s very hard to say how that has changed over generations, though. Many parents look pretty bonkers to the distant observer; you can only really assess the reality from the inside. But I would say, more in explanation than defence, that we live now in a much more competitive culture than we used to. We are brought up to be more competitive in the workplace, as well as with our appearance, our lifestyles, our popularity, our fitness and all sorts of other stuff where once we might have been allowed to slack off a bit. So, although it may be unhealthy, it is hardly surprising to see those values applied to parenting as well.

 

Social mobility tsar James Caan said this week that parents should not help their sons and daughters into jobs. Is that realistic?

No, as James Caan himself must surely realise after the week he has had. It has been almost amusing. First, we have Nick Clegg – the living embodiment of special privilege and entitlement, who seems to have strolled through plenty of open doors himself – appointing James Caan to tell the rest of us, on his behalf, that we should be closing all doors to our own children. And then we find out that his own appointee has used his own position to open all available doors to his own kids. Almost amusing, but actually quite infuriating.

 

Is there a sense in which helping your children as they embark on their careers is holding them back?

There may be, but you need nerves of steel to take the opposite approach. These children work much harder than we ever did when we were at school to get the brilliant results – annually dismissed as “grade inflation” – which they require to get to the university of their choice which will cost them a fortune, at the end of which they are met by the terror of long-term unemployment. They seem to face enough obstacles without their own parents chucking in banana skins.

 

Are the people getting into the best universities and into the best jobs coming from too narrow a background?

One look at our political class and it’s quite clear that something has gone badly wrong somewhere. It is quite extraordinary the way that government is dominated today by this gang of Old Etonians, in a manner that we haven’t witnessed for decades. And, of course, it makes it very hard for them to address the nationwide problem of stagnant social mobility. How can they even begin to talk to us about it when they are so remarkably unimaginative with their own appointments?

 

Nick Clegg is a fierce critic of unpaid internships. Do you share his concern?

He’s right on this one. We’ve gone from trainee schemes to slave labour in the space of a decade. In the summer, there are interns keeping offices going and they are not even being given their travel expenses. And, of course, behind every unpaid intern is a family that is paying to keep them going. It is grossly unfair and should be made illegal, as should calling all interns “Workie” and not even bothering to learn their names. It happens.

 

Michael Gove says he is seeking more academic rigour with his I-levels. Is this the way to improve educational standards?

For the past month, as every year, students all over the country have been taking different papers at different times to be marked by different boards according to different scales, in order to end up with the same qualifications in the same subjects at the end of it. That simply can’t be right and it’s time we had one national exam board. Michael Gove’s enthusiasm for Latin and George Eliot and academic rigour will suit one sector of students but by no means all. So the worry is that with introducing I-levels, he will have to introduce a few other levels, too, and then everyone will be taking a different set of initials and the whole thing will be a muddle – yet again. Although our exam system is imperfect, the idea of change is always alarming. It takes a couple of years to get things right, and who wants to be the one – or the parent of the one – sitting in the exam hall when the music stops? Getting rid of coursework is a sound idea, though. That really is where the rot starts: parents sitting at home writing A-grade essays while the candidates are glued to Towie.

 

How much difference can be made by Maria Miller’s drive to increase women’s presence in business?

Most government drives seem end up as U-turns, so we shall have to see where this one goes. Reading through this report, it’s not easy to tell whether anyone really knows if women are staying away from business because they feel rejected, or because they are rejecting the idea of working in business themselves. One thing that does need to change, though, is employers’ disinclination to take on older women. If we are all to be stuck working until we are 70, then we have to open our minds to the idea of career changes much later in life. Women over 50 have so much to offer, and it’s time the workplace woke up to the fact.

Gill Hornby’s novel ‘The Hive’ is published by Little, Brown

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Ashdown Group: PHP Web Developer / Website Coordinator (PHP, JavaScript)

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: PHP Web...

Recruitment Genius: Estates Projects & Resources Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in London, Manchester, Br...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: moderate, iconic royals are a shoe-in for a pedantic kicking

Guy Keleny
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: Cameron is running scared from the “empty chair”

Oliver Wright
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us